It’s no secret that the No. 8 Michigan women’s basketball team’s offense runs through the paint. With the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year in senior forward Naz Hillmon holding down the interior — and senior forward Emily Kiser providing a complementary post-up game — scoring in the paint has come easily for the Wolverines .
So, what happens when the inside scoring offense isn’t enough?
Only Louisville and Nebraska have outscored Michigan in the paint this season. It’s no surprise that those are the Wolverines’ only two losses thus far.
Michigan’s issues, however, don’t stem from an inability to score in the paint against good teams. Louisville only outscored the Wolverines by four in the paint, while the Cornhuskers outscored them by just two in the paint.
The problem is that Michigan’s points haven’t been coming from elsewhere. When the Wolverines can’t outscore quality opponents in the paint, they haven’t been able to compensate with production from the perimeter.
Michigan shot an abysmal 2-for-15 from the 3-point arc against Lousiville and an even worse 1-for-12 against Nebraska. It’s hard to win a basketball game when shots aren’t falling from behind the arc.
“We were always trying to fight back, but could really never get in a rhythm,” Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico told WTKA after the loss to Nebraska. “Part of that was us not making shots, and I’m sure part of that was their defense as well.”
If the Wolverines want to reach the lofty heights of a Big Ten Championship and improve upon last year’s Sweet Sixteen appearance in the NCAA Tournament, outside shots need to start finding the mark.
The losses to Louisville and Nebraska aren’t an exception to Michigan’s struggles from behind the arc, either. The Wolverines have shot a subpar 29.3% from 3-point range on the season, which ranks second-worst in the Big Ten. Junior guard Maddie Nolan, who is shooting 41.7% from three, and senior guard Danielle Rauch, who is shooting 35.6% from three, have been the only reliable 3-point options so far.
And yet, the inability to hit perimeter shots hasn’t fazed Barnes Arico.
“I think we shoot the ball well,” Barnes Arico said after the loss against Louisville in December. “I think now it’s shooting under pressure. This is a different situation than shooting in practice.”
For the most part, the Wolverines’ subpar perimeter shooting hasn’t hampered them. Led by Hillmon, Michigan has been able to bully most teams inside. Excluding the Louisville and Nebraska games, it has outscored its opponents in the paint by a whopping total of 502 points to 312.
This includes a win against then No. 5 Baylor and its star forward — and potential WNBA first overall pick — NaLyssa Smith, who the Wolverines managed to outscore 38 to 28 in the paint.
Winning the paint battle against an elite team with a dominant inside scorer proves that the Wolverines can hang with anyone in the paint. It’s been enough to thrash teams that can’t contain their post presence.
But Michigan now has a target on its back and a tough schedule ahead, with matchups against the top teams in the conference still looming. If the Wolverines want to handle the storm that’s coming, they have to make perimeter shots.
“Our team has to realize we’re in a different position,” Barnes Arico said. “Now, when somebody beats us, it’s a great resume booster. So we’re going to get everybody’s best shot, and especially on the road in the Big Ten.”