With under 20 seconds left in the 2020 Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, the Michigan women’s basketball team was looking to clinch its win over Northwestern.
Staying calm with the ball at the top of the key, then-sophomore guard Amy Dilk swung the ball to then-senior guard Akienreh Johnson. Johnson passed into the corner where then-junior forward Hailey Brown stood, waiting to knock down a 3-pointer.
The extra three points put any doubt of an early exit to rest, as Michigan went on to win, 67-59. Brown’s necessary 3-pointer only highlighted the importance of perimeter shooting in the Michigan offense, if it were to compete against top teams in the country.
When junior forward Naz Hillmon joined the team three years ago, she quickly established herself as one of the conference’s dominant post players.
Opposing teams double, or sometimes even triple-team Hillmon, leaving someone open on the perimeter. If the Wolverines can knock down 3-point shots, teams have to start worrying about guarding the outside, leaving no help in the post to stop Hillmon. It becomes a vicious cycle. No help in the post — Hillmon scores. No help on the perimeter — guards are hitting 3-pointers.
“I’ve really been trying to expand my game,” Hillmon said. “Just being able to knock down those open, mid-range shots so that I can pull myself away from the basket and potentially open up my teammates for some things.”
This season, 3-point shooting will continue to remain an important part of Michigan’s offense. Coach Kim Barnes Arico will need to be able to pencil in a player in the lineup that can give consistent looks on the 3-point line. The Daily broke down three candidates for the role.
Senior forward Hailey Brown
Hailey Brown led the team in 3-point shooting last season, making her the biggest threat out wide. Last season she shot 36.6% from the 3-point line and averaged 1.8 made 3-pointers per game. On the season, she was eleventh in the Big Ten in total 3-pointers made.
She also becomes a valuable weapon in the Wolverines’ offense with her ability to play in the post. Both Hillmon and Brown work well together down low, dumping balls off to one another, and working the high and low post well.
Hailey Brown is also one of two seniors on the team. Her upperclassman status, consistent rotation in the lineup last season, and chemistry with Hillmon only makes her a better candidate for the role.
Sophomore guard Michelle Sidor
As a freshman, Sidor appeared in 31 games off the bench, shooting 30.6% from the 3-point line. At the end of last season, Sidor ranked third on the team in 3-point shooting despite lacking consistency. Now, with one year of experience under her belt, she’ll be in the running for a larger role this season.
Early last season she struggled with diminishing playing time, falling down deeper and deeper in the depth chart. As the season continued, Sidor gained confidence, but more importantly, decisiveness. She’s selfless when she needs to be but isn’t afraid to take shots when open. Last season, Barnes Arico compared her to Katelynn Flaherty, Michigan’s best ever 3-point shooter.
With Sidor on the perimeter, teams will be forced to respect her shooting range. This opens up Hillmon in the paint even more. Even if she’s not knocking down threes, Sidor is creating space on the floor for Hillmon and other post players to work down low. This season she’ll be a key piece of the Wolverines’ offense.
Junior wing Leigha Brown
The transfer from Nebraska is a wild-card in the Wolverines roster this year. At Nebraska, Leigha Brown was the leading scorer on her team, averaging 14.4 points per game. While she’s not a typical shooting guard, she’ll bring a new dimension to Michigan’s offense.
As a combination post player and guard, Leigha Brown could be the offensive threat the Wolverines need. Last season she had 91 3-point attempts, shooting 34.1% from deep.
Like Hailey Brown, she’s willing to put up the three. There’s no replacing Hillmon in the post, but if Leigha Brown can add her own strengths to Hillmon’s on the 3-point line and in the paint, the sky’s the limit for Michigan’s offense.
And as teams continue to get better at defending Hillmon in the paint, the Wolverines need options.