Seven months ago, to the day, former Wolverine Naz Hillmon was drafted to the WNBA. And for those seven months, one of the loudest questions hanging over the No. 25 Michigan women’s basketball team was how it would adapt without Hillmon and her post prowess.
But on Friday night against Saint Francis (PA), after Hillmon and her fellow graduated teammates were honored pregame during the revealing of last season’s Elite Eight banner, the Wolverines’ current forwards dominated.
Graduate forward Emily Kiser poured in a career-high 25 points and junior forward Cameron Williams tacked on 12 along with eight rebounds in what was an authoritative frontcourt showing.
“(Kiser) had a career-high, I didn’t even realize (at first),” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “She’s so efficient. She’s like a silent assassin, you don’t even really know it and then you look at the box score and you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, like what happened?’ ”
What happened was Kiser’s second dominant performance in as many games. On Wednesday against Delaware State, she scored 15 points with six rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks — all without committing a single turnover. Friday, she showcased even more of that ability as she scored her 25 points in just 23 minutes, filling the rest of the stat sheet along the way.
But Kiser wasn’t alone in the post. Williams — who rarely saw significant minutes in her first two seasons due to backing up Hillmon — has been a reliable starter in the paint thus far.
“I love the way that Cameron has been playing,” Barnes Arico said. “Kind of instant offense, really giving us a spark.”
Besides combining for 37 of the Wolverines’ 91 points, the duo’s rebounding ability has made their teammates more confident while shooting.
“It gives us confidence as shooters just to be able to shoot it and not worry about a miss,” sophomore guard Jordan Hobbs said. “They’ve been playing out of their minds, they have been doing so well.”
After the win Wednesday, Williams mentioned the things she learned under Hillmon, including intense rebounding and aggression on the boards, especially on the offensive end. And Friday, six of her eight rebounds came on offense as she cleaned the glass for her team.
Williams also mentioned her own goals, particularly working on her defense. Friday, Kiser and Williams led Michigan in holding the Red Flash to just 10 points in the paint and allowing just eight offensive rebounds to Saint Francis.
“They’ve both been outstanding, amazing,” Barnes Arico praised of her starting forwards.
As the Wolverines continue to transition to an offense that’s more dominated by the 3-pointer than it has been in recent seasons, the rebounding abilities of Kiser and Williams will continue to be vital to their success. In the first half, the team shot 20 3-pointers, only sinking five of them. But with Kiser and Williams there to collect misses, Michigan has the opportunity to keep shooting those shots, even in games where the three isn’t falling.
The questions about the loss of Hillmon — a two-time All-American — likely won’t be going away anytime soon. But Kiser and Williams had an impactful post presence in the season’s first two games.
For Kiser, she’s building upon the role she established for herself last season, and doing so as the new leader of the frontcourt. For Williams, she’s stepping into a role she’s been preparing for over the past two years.
Both of them are creating offensive production and allowing their teammates to take shots without fear of losing the ball. And for the Wolverines, that could go a long way.