There’s no place like home.
In front of its fans at Crisler Center for the first time since Nov. 19, the Michigan women’s basketball team snapped a two-game losing streak, steamrolling LIU Brooklyn (0-8) in an 83-38 victory.
From the opening tip, the Wolverines (6-3) suffocated the Blackbirds, scoring at will inside the paint and starting the game on a 23-0 run. In addition to their imposing offensive frame, the defense proved just as competent, notching seven steals in the first quarter alone.
While they were held in check for the most part on their five-game road trip, Michigan’s star bigs — freshman Naz Hillmon and senior Hallie Thome — each produced, as Thome scored 11 points, with 10 in the first half. Hillmon notched 24 and dominated the first frame with a 14-point performance that also saw her snag three offensive rebounds.
“We call her Naz-Zilla,” Thome joked after the game. “She is one of a kind.”
The game can, in essence, be summed up by four plays that took place midway through the first frame. With the score at 9-0 with just over six minutes to go, Hillmon checked in for Thome and promptly scored a layup off of an offensive rebound on her first possession. On the Wolverines’ next trip down the floor, sophomore guard Deja Church followed up a missed triple by senior forward Nicole Munger to score an easy layup of her own.
Two plays later, Hillmon outmuscled Brooklyn defenders inside and scored a layup right off the inbound pass to stretch the lead to 15-0. With 2:16 left in the quarter, Hillmon notched another putback to make the score 21-0 — a score line usually reserved for Saturday afternoons in Ann Arbor.
“Whenever I come in I just try to bring a lot of energy and intensity,” Hillmon said.
It was a dominant performance that was much-needed for Michigan. After multiple road games against ranked opponents where the Wolverines finished 2-3, they were pushing for a dominant win. Against the Blackbirds, they got just that.
“Being back home and getting this win means a lot to us,” Hillmon said.
Perhaps one of the most important takeaways from the win was that Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico had the opportunity to get extended looks at some of her freshmen who do not normally see the floor, such as guards Ariel Young and Danielle Rauch. Even against a lackluster Brooklyn squad, getting game experience is always a huge plus for a team, especially one with so many young players waiting in the wings.
“It’s important any time they can get those minutes,” Barnes Arico said.
Michigan shot well from the field, making 43.6 percent of its field goals and 70 percent of its free throws. However, its 3-point shooting remained an issue, with the team combining to make just one of its 16 attempts.
“That is not the strength of our team this year,” Barnes Arico said. “It’s definitely an area where we need to improve and continue to work and hopefully that improves throughout the course of the season.”
While the Blackbird offense began to wake up in the second half, the margin that the Wolverines had created in the first half provided a large enough cushion, and they were able to take their foot off the gas and cruise to a comfortable, well-earned win after a tough road stretch.