Naz Hillmon is officially the Big Ten player of the year. She is the first player in program history to win the award.
The junior forward has been on the watchlist since before the season began, and her consistent ability to dominate on the court has been recognized at the highest level of the conference.
Hillmon averaged a double-double per game during the regular season with 25.1 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. Additionally, Hillmon shot 64.5% from the field and 76.4% from the line.
Hillmon has had a great campaign in an unconventional season, and in light of her recognition, The Daily breaks down her three biggest games from this year.
50-Point Game at Ohio State
No matter how it’s sliced, Hillmon’s record-breaking 50 point, 16 rebound performance against Ohio State is the highlight of her season. She broke the Michigan record, both men’s and women’s, for most points scored by a single player in a game.
In the 81-77 loss, Hillmon consistently broke through double and triple teams to keep her team in the competition.
But her performance didn’t establish herself as one of the best Wolverine basketball players of all time; rather, it fortified a position in those ranks she already deservedly held, and has now been recognized for. One of the most prolific scorers in Michigan’s history, Hillmon has averaged 13.1, 17.4, and 26.1 points per game in her freshman, sophomore and junior seasons, respectively.
“Her ability to score the basketball, to catch the basketball is incredible,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “When you’re not making any outside shots we just started running everything through her.”
30-20 Performance vs. Nebraska
Hillmon recorded the team’s only 30-20 game of the season in the 64-62 win against Nebraska, scoring 35 points and grabbing 22 rebounds. She scored more than half of the Wolverines’ points that game and grabbed more than 37% of the team’s rebounds.
Though rebounds aren’t quite as flashy as points, they are often more important. Through the season thus far, Hillmon has compiled 180 rebounds — 83 offensive, 97 defensive — and is averaging 11.3 per game.
The offense flowed through Hillmon in a close game where second scoring option junior wing Leigha Brown was unavailable due to COVID-19 protocols. Other than junior guard Amy Dilk, who scored 11 points, Hillmon was the only player to score in the double digits.
Dominant in the paint, Hillmon kept her team in the game despite entering the third quarter behind the Huskers and led the comeback to preserve the team’s then-perfect record. When it comes to close moments, Hillmon has always been the reliable option for the offense, playing the ball off the glass better than anyone else in the league — and perhaps even in the nation.
Of her performance, Hillmon said: “I knew that the score was closer than we would like it to be to a very great Nebraska team. And it’s really trying to do anything that I could.”
Throttling of Northwestern
In the 84-63 domination against Northwestern, Hillmon recorded 26 points and 12 rebounds. It may seem to be the norm for Hillmon, but the first Northwestern game was different from all of Michigan’s games before it.
The Wildcats were the first ranked Big Ten team the Wolverines faced this season. At the time, Northwestern was No. 15 in the AP Poll, with Michigan one spot below them. It was also just the second game the Wolverines had played in 25 days.
Despite the long pause, Hillmon played excellently against some of the league’s best players like the Wildcat’s guard Lindsey Pulliam. Double teams and triple teams were unable to hold her back, a motif that would reappear throughout the season.
It was a statement game as the Wolverines advanced to a 7-0 record spearheaded by Hillmon’s performance. Always a team player, Barnes Arico commented on her ability to spread the ball around to open players after the game. Being the force she is in the paint, Hillmon often draws multiple defenders, leaving her teammates open.
“When you are the dominating post presence that she is and you are facing a double team every night, you have to work on becoming a great passer and Naz has done that,” Barnes Arico said. “Her ability to find her teammates is really incredible.”
With Michigan’s great play thus far, the team is slated to contend for a Big Ten Championship in a way it hasn’t before. The Wolverines have captured the fourth overall seed in the tournament, earning themselves an extra two days of rest before their first match.
Only time will tell if Michigan will be successful in the tournament, but if Hillmon’s dominance continues in the postseason, the Wolverines could be looking at their first Big Ten championship ever, in addition to their first player of the year award.
And Hillmon, now the face of Big Ten women’s basketball, would be the face of the team that brought it to Ann Arbor.