As the No. 3 seed Michigan women’s basketball team took the floor against No. 14 seed American, a palpable tension fell over Crisler Center. After finishing the regular season unbeaten at home, a win seemed inevitable for the Wolverines. But, it’s March. Anything can happen.
Just not on Saturday afternoon.
Michigan (23-6) steamrolled American (23-9), 74-39, quickly crushing any hope of an Eagles’ upset and advancing to the Round of 32.
“This is really special,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “It was a great night. American’s a great team. But, we played exceptionally well tonight and it was nice to get that game under our belt heading into Monday.”
The Wolverines came out of the gate slow, making just two of their 11 attempts across the first six minutes of play. Instead of working the ball inside, Michigan was settling for jumpers, and it wasn’t making them. Entering the second quarter the Wolverines had scored just 11 points, holding a meager three point lead over American, the champions of the Patriot League.
Following the slow start, Michigan flipped the script and thoroughly dominated the second quarter. The Wolverines started playing through the post, and finished the quarter with 16 points in the paint. Senior forward Naz Hillmon led the charge, scoring 11 points in the second frame and making all five of her field goal attempts.
“They would get out in transition, and we had guards on (Hillmon) at times because we’re trying to get back,” American coach Megan Gebbia said. “Or, she would get better position on us because we were late getting back to her … She’s an amazing player.”
The Eagles had no answer for Michigan’s offense and couldn’t find a way to score on the Wolverines’ defense. A 3-pointer from senior wing Leigha Brown at the buzzer capped off the half as Michigan battered American 28-5 in the second quarter, giving itself a commanding 39-13 lead at the half.
Coming out of the break, the Wolverines kept a comfortable lead throughout the second half. Michigan never matched its dominant second quarter, but also never let the Eagles spark a comeback.
Hillmon’s strong performance continued into the third quarter, and she finished the game with 24 points and 11 rebounds, despite sitting the entire fourth quarter. The 6,471 fans that filled Crisler cheered her on as she left the game late in the third quarter.
“(The fans) were super loud today,” Hillmon said. “Even when we were just being announced. You could feel the energy in the air — it was electric.”
The Wolverines looked to senior forward Emily Kiser on the inside as well, and she delivered. Kiser finished the game with 13 points and seven rebounds.
“We knew that defensively they were going to really pack it in the paint and try to limit (Naz’s) touches there, and potentially leave Emily in some one-on-one situations,” Barnes Arico said. “I thought Emily did a phenomenal job of being aggressive and playing confident.”
After a dominant second quarter, Michigan never let up. The Wolverines buried American, preventing the Eagles from clawing their way back into the game. And when junior guard Michelle Sidor checked into the game midway through the fourth quarter, Michigan’s student section exploded. An aura of festivity overtook Crisler Center, the result all but final: The Wolverines are still dancing.