Last season, it was atypical for the No. 23 Michigan women’s basketball team to shoot more than 20 3-pointers in a game. Gameplans revolving around then-senior forward Naz Hillmon’s foreboding interior presence helped fuel the program’s first run to the Elite Eight. High volume deep shooting wasn’t a part of that team’s approach — and it didn’t have to be.
This Friday against St. Francis (PA), however, the Wolverines shot 20 in the first half.
As Michigan looks to forge a new offensive identity in the post-Hillmon era, outside shooting is becoming more of a priority. Through two games, though, it’s struggled to convert from deep, shooting just over 30% overall. As the Wolverines try to build off of last year’s Elite Eight performance, they will have to become more accurate.
If they can, their potential will be incredibly high.
After struggling from beyond the arc throughout most of last season, and losing its most productive scorer to the WNBA, Michigan made its goal of becoming a better shooting team clear at Michigan’s media day on Oct. 12:
“You have to make adjustments to the strength of your team,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “That’s one of the things that we really pride ourselves on: finding what we’re good at, and really going to be good at. … This year, way different than last year, we’re gonna shoot the basketball.”
Through two games this year, Barnes Arico’s promise rings true. After averaging just 15 attempts per game last season, the Wolverines have shot 30-plus in each regular season contest so far. What has not increased, however, is their accuracy: their team 3-point percentage is nearly identical to what it was last year.
That percentage would be notably lower, too, if not for sophomore guard Laila Phelia’s red-hot shooting performance thus far. Phelia is currently shooting 78% from deep and was a perfect three-for-three in Friday’s game versus St. Francis (PA). The rest of the team shot just 17% from deep.
“I feel like the confidence piece of it (is important),” Phelia said. “We’ve really been building that in these couple games. … We still need to be able to drive. But we’ve played a lot against 2-3 zones, so we’ve been relying a lot on our shot. We’re still figuring it out. … We do have great shooters, and that will help us a lot.”
So far this season, Michigan hasn’t needed that help. Dominant wins against non-conference opponents have given a wide margin for error. Looking forward, however, the Wolverines will need to improve those percentages in order to compete in a loaded Big Ten.
Despite a substandard performance from deep on Friday, they seem committed to doing just that.
“I think we are a great 3-point shooting team,” Barnes Arico said. “I think when you lose unbelievable inside presence like Naz, and not just from a scoring perspective, but also a rebounding perspective. She gave us a lot of opportunities for second chance points that we lost. So if we can make up threes for twos in that area, that will really help us.”
Keyword being “if.”
If Michigan can overcome these early inefficiencies, if it can replace Hillmon’s production, if those shots start to fall, then those goals of meeting and surpassing last year’s success can become reality.