The Michigan women’s basketball team (3-0) might have rolled through its season so far, but the Wolverines are still heating up.
So far, they’ve faced Mount St. Mary’s, Western Michigan and Detroit Mercy. None of those teams have posed any real threat whatsoever to Michigan, who has outscored opponents 262-144.
After Thanksgiving, though, the Wolverines will head to Estero, Fla. for their first test of the season at the Gulf Coast Showcase. Friday night, they are set to play No. 21 Missouri (3-1) in the tournament’s opening round.
Program-wise, the Tigers are a step up from the squads Michigan faced the last three games. They are coming off a 24-8 season that culminated in their third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, where they lost in the first round to Florida Gulf Coast.
Missouri returns three capable starters from last season — guards Sophie Cunningham, Amber Smith and Lauren Aldridge — all of whom are upperclassmen.
Cunningham led the team in scoring last year, averaging 18.5 points while boasting an impressive 54.2 percent clip from the field, and currently puts up 16.3 points a night. She is the engine of her team’s offense.
Smith is also a key offensive contributor, posting 13.5 points a game, while Aldridge led the Tigers in assists last season. Combining those three veterans will create a challenge for the Wolverines’ young backcourt of freshman guard Amy Dilk and sophomore guard Deja Church.
Missouri also has two talented freshmen, forward Grace Berg and guard Akira Levy. The former was a five-star recruit; the latter, a four-star. Both have logged significant playing time.
The Tigers aren’t without fault, though. Following their first two games, they were ranked 16th in the nation but then fell after losing to Green Bay. That loss was primarily due to poor shooting.
Michigan has the height advantage, which has helped the team succeed so far. Nobody has been able to stop 6-foot-5 senior center Hallie Thome from dominating the paint. The Wolverines are also the better shooting team, as they’ve converted 51.5 percent from the field for 11th in the country.
Much of the shooting success can be credited to freshman forward Naz Hillmon, who has drained 23 of 27 shots on the year. Right now, she’s the most efficient shooter in the nation. During the Wolverines’ 95-62 victory against Detroit Mercy on Monday night, she dropped 22 points while also spearheading the defensive press.
“I think Naz is incredible,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico after Monday’s game. “When you have that type of size and length upfront, I really think she’s able to pressure people and get it going from the top.”
Added Hillmon: “It was awesome. It gives me a lot of confidence knowing that my coach, as soon as I get into the game, trusts to put me at the top of that press. It gives me confidence that my teammates and my coaches believe in me and it makes me want to work harder on both ends of the ball.”
It’s hard to judge how good Barnes Arico’s team is because it hasn’t faced a real test yet. But Friday’s matchup against a ranked opponent will provide the perfect opportunity to see just how well the Wolverines fare.