It’s not uncommon for senior forward Naz Hillmon to carry the No. 4 Michigan women’s basketball team on offense. All of its scoring funnels through her, and she’s the go-to when the Wolverines are struggling to produce points.
Opposing teams have figured out Michigan’s game-plan, but that hasn’t caused much of an issue throughout the season. Keying in on the paint, opponents have only found limited success in trying to force other Wolverines to score.
Senior wing Leigha Brown, when not out with a day-to-day leg injury, always adds valuable depth to the offense. Against Iowa, freshman guard Laila Phelia found her offensive groove. Junior guard Maddie Nolan has previously been a spark from the 3-point line down the stretch. Someone always steps up.
Not on Thursday night.
Against Michigan State, the rest of the Wolverines went stagnant. Generating zero bench points and having only one other player score in double digits, Hillmon’s success wasn’t enough to propel Michigan to victory.
“We’re trying to find our identity,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “We lost (Brown), an all-conference player, for the second game, who’s our leading guard scorer and is a dynamic player. So I think we’re trying to figure out where we’re gonna make up 15 points a game.”
Hillmon notched 27 points on the night, well above her average 20.8 points per game. With outside shooters struggling to find the bottom of the net, Michigan continued to feed it to Hillmon in the paint.
Aside from Hillmon, senior guard Danielle Rauch was the only other player to score in double digits, ending the night with 12. Rauch tried to become the second scorer the Wolverines needed, but her contributions couldn’t get the Wolverines over the hump.
Phelia came close to double digits with nine, but ultimately proved to be more of a hazard on the court than a scorer. She struggled to maintain her composure, turning the ball over five times — all of which came from travels.
“(Laila’s) a freshman and that’s just how it’s gonna be,” Barnes Arico said. “… Some days she’s gonna look amazing. And then other days, she’s gonna look like a deer in the headlights. And that was kind of a little bit what we sort of saw today.”
But even outside of individual struggles, the Wolverines couldn’t find their usual rhythm. With senior forward Emily Kiser stepping up in the post, the Wolverines have previously found success with a high-low paint setup. Nolan provides open looks outside once teams adjust to that presence.
Yet, Kiser couldn’t find her footing either on Thursday, scoring just 4 points — well below her average 9.7. Nolan, Michigan’s best 3-point shooter, notched just five points, going 1-for-6 from behind the arc.
“I think Maddie was the one we keyed on especially in transition and certainly wouldn’t leave her in the corner court either,” Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. “I mean, they’re capable. All those guys are capable scorers. They all are.”
Despite their ample scoring weapons, the Wolverines’ starters couldn’t realize their usual potential. Struggling to score, Barnes Arico turned to her bench for a spark. That ultimately proved fruitless as well.
Without any help, Hillmon’s strong performance fell short and her efficiency suffered, leading the Wolverines to trail the Spartans nearly the entire second half and ultimately drop the game.