With Penn State slowly crawling back into the game, junior guard Maddie Nolan snatched a rebound from a missed 3-pointer from senior wing Leigha Brown. With three Nittany Lions closing in, an option appeared:
After a slick feed from Nolan, Hillmon pushed the lead to 35-25 with an easy layup, extending an advantage that the Wolverines would not relinquish. The No. 11 Michigan women’s basketball team (14-2 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) dominated Thursday’s game against Penn State (7-7, 1-3), winning 74-57.
Four minutes into the game, the Wolverines had already set the evening’s tone by going on a 10-point opening run. Three of their first four baskets came off of Nittany Lions’ turnovers, and Brown and Nolan each sank a 3-pointer before Penn State scored a bucket.
“I was really happy with the way we started,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico told WTKA after the game. “I thought our defense was tenacious. I thought (we) were really confident on the offensive end, really shot the ball extremely well, handled their pressure early and established ourselves from the tip.”
And after establishing themselves, the Wolverines kept their offense rolling. They went up 20-5 thanks to a layup from Nolan with 4:18 left in the first quarter.
The Wolverines scored 25 points in the first quarter, relying on multiple shooters to score. Brown and Nolan led the way with 10 and 8 points, respectively in the first quarter, shooting a combined 7-of-9 from the field.
The 3-pointer became an early theme as Michigan shot 5-of-5 from 3-point range to end the first quarter. This was a new look on offense, as the majority of Michigan’s points this season have come from inside the paint.
But that hot start soon cooled, as the Wolverines scored a more mediocre 14 points in the second quarter. The Wolverines shot 41.7% from the field in the second compared to their unsustainably efficient 71.4% mark in the first.
After being down 20-5 halfway through the first quarter, Penn State went on a 15-10 run capped off by a wide open jumper from guard Makenna Marisa, cutting the lead to 10.
Despite this, the Nittany Lions only scored 13 points off of 27.8% shooting from the field in the second quarter. This was a result of a combination of good defense and contested shots throughout the period. Senior forward Emily Kiser had five defensive rebounds in the second quarter, and she finished the game with 13 points and 10 defensive rebounds.
Michigan started the second half on a 9-1 run, resembling its first half momentum. Early in the third, it was the same story, as Hillmon managed to body her way through and make a layup, drawing the foul and making the and-one to give the Wolverines a 44-28 lead with 7:53 left in the third quarter.
Penn State struggled opening the second half, just scoring one point in the first four minutes of the third quarter. The Nittany Lions began to pick up the pace, scoring seven points in a 76 second span. But after that, they would score just one field goal in the final 4:29 of the third.
But Penn State would come out on full cylinders in the fourth, going on a 13-3 run scoring nine points in the quarter’s first 90 seconds. Marisa hit her second 3-pointer of the game to cut the game to 11 with 7:32 left.
“I thought we got a little tentative in the second half and not getting great shots out of that,” Barnes Arico said.
With the momentum shifting, Hillmon ultimately steered the Wolverines back on track, drawing a foul and still making a reverse layup and the and-one with 6:35 left to put them up 14.
Michigan was finally able to find Hillmon one-on-one inside the paint, after an array of double and triple-teams.
“It was nice to see that we were able to break their pressure and find (Hillmon) early in transition, which allowed her to be in a one on one,” Barnes Arico said. “I was proud of our guards for really finding her in those spots.”
Hillmon’s teammates would set her up, and she would take over in the fourth quarter scoring 10 points to lead the Wolverines to the eventual victory. The Nittany Lions couldn’t contain her energy and offensive vision.
And that’s exactly what Michigan needs from her at this point in the season.