Michigan finds success sporadically deploying its 1-2-2 defensive scheme. Becca Mahon/Daily. Buy this photo.

The No. 11 Michigan women’s basketball team has utilized half-court man-to-man defense almost exclusively so far this season. Occasionally, freshman guard Ari Wiggins applied full-court ball pressure, but as her minutes have dwindled, this wrinkle in the Wolverines’ defense has all but disappeared.

Michigan, though, relies on another trick up its sleeve on the defensive end: the Wolverines have run a 1-2-2 three-quarter court press sporadically over the course of the season. So far, it has been extremely effective.

Senior forward Naz Hillmon is the focal point of the press. Defending at the top of a 1-2-2 zone requires both the length to disrupt passing lanes and quickness to get to the ball handler when it’s time to trap, and Hillmon boasts both qualities. 

“We like to press,” senior guard Amy Dilk said after Michigan’s win over Rutgers on Sunday. “We like having Naz up there. Kind of just changes the pace of the game, especially against a team like Rutgers who likes to slow it down a lot.”

Using Hillmon as a defensive anchor comes at a cost, however. Hillmon is already the driving force of Michigan’s offense, so asking her to fly around the court on defense is unrealistic for an entire game; it’s simply too much. But when the Wolverines do decide to run the zone, Hillmon and her teammates run it effectively.

“I think Naz at the top of that really flusters the point guard because you don’t usually see the post picking someone up at the top there,” senior guard Danielle Rauch said after beating IUPUI in the season opener in November.

The press was successful in the season opener against IUPUI. The 1-2-2 appeared more often than usual in that performance, but it remained effective throughout the game. During the second and third quarters, the Wolverines forced multiple jump balls and turnovers while running the press; it wasn’t a coincidence that they opted for this scheme.

“Our freshmen are super athletic, and quick, and really great on the defensive end,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said after beating IUPUI in November. “I thought they really provided a spark for us, and that trap changed the tempo for sure.”

Michigan experienced similar success in its domination of Rutgers last Sunday. The Wolverines implemented the 1-2-2 late in the first quarter, resulting in back-to-back turnovers from the Scarlet Knights. The extra possessions led to a pair of made Hillmon free throws and a 3-pointer from Dilk.

In that situation, the trap worked perfectly. However, early in the second quarter, Rutgers managed to break the press, and scored an easy two points in the paint.

Mistakes are inevitable with any defensive scheme, be it a momentary lapse in concentration or good ball movement by an opposing offense; teams are bound to get scored on.

Michigan’s trap has minimized that possibility, though, even against high-quality opponents. In last Tuesday’s loss to Nebraska, Michigan ran its trap midway through the second quarter. The Cornhuskers were able to advance the ball past half court without committing a turnover. There was a sense of panic among Nebraska, though, that resulted in a rushed 3-point attempt early in the shot clock, giving the Wolverines the stop.

The 1-2-2 three-quarter court trap has been a successful tool for Michigan’s defense so far this season. As the Wolverines continue into conference play, the trap seems to be here to stay. Its sporadic use offers a change of pace that throws teams off their rhythm for a few possessions each game.

“We have really good length,” Rauch said after beating IUPUI. “So when we do something like that 1-2-2 press, we can close down traps really well and play in between to make it really difficult.”