After a stellar freshman season and as the only Wolverines player who averaged over 10 points per game last season, Naz Hillmon is on the top of the scouting report of every one of the Michigan women’s basketball team’s opponents.
In Friday night’s game against Western Michigan, the sophomore forward was largely kept in check offensively, in part due to foul trouble, but mainly because of the constant double teams she was facing from the Broncos in the paint. This left lanes open for the Wolverines’ perimeter players to get open shots. This helped bring to light a big question that faced Michigan entering the season: Can other players could score enough to take pressure off Hillmon and win games?
Hillmon only finished with 10 points, and the rest of the Wolverines took advantage of the amount of space they had as a result of the attention on Hillmon. Senior forward Kayla Robbins led the way with 17 points, followed by sophomore guard Amy Dilk with 12. Five other players scored at least five points.
“Them packing the paint left open those driving lanes for Kayla Robbins, and Kayla Robbins was able to attack, attack, attack,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I think teams are gonna have to get to the point where they’re gonna have to pick their poison.
Robbins showed the ability to lead the team on offense without Hillmon on the floor and supplement it when playing with Hillmon. She set the tone for the Wolverines early, hitting a three-pointer on the first possession of the game and scoring five of their first seven points.
Her play in the second quarter gave Michigan even more reason for optimism despite only scoring three points. After playing the entire first quarter, Robbins started the second quarter on the bench, and in the three minutes without her on the floor, the Wolverines were outscored by Western Michigan. Her re-entry into the game sparked a 13-2 run by Michigan to close out the half, during which sophomore forward Emily Kiser and sophomore guard Danielle Rauch combined for eight of the Wolverines’ points. Robbins, playing mostly with inexperienced players, was a clear catalyst of this run.
Dilk’s play also showed that Michigan will not be strapped for points without Hillmon on the floor. A main focus for her during the offseason was improving her scoring ability. She was clearly a more confident shooter against the Broncos than she had been last season, taking 11 shots and six three-pointers.
“She knew she was gonna have to score the basketball for us as well, or else it’s gonna be another person that’s packing the paint on Naz,” Barnes Arico said. “So she knows that she has to look at the rim and she has to get some shots up… I was happy that she was able to knock some down tonight.”
Senior guard Akienreh Johnson also showed that she can take on an expanded scoring role. Despite fouling out in only 11 minutes, she scored seven points and was clearly an important piece in Michigan’s offense.
While the Wolverines’ secondary players showed that they can be depended on to get to the basket and score, they would not have had as many opportunities as they did without Hillmon’s willingness to distribute the ball when she didn’t have open looks.
“She’ll find her teammates, she’ll make extra passes, and she’ll just do whatever her team needs her to do for us to be successful,” Barnes Arico said. “And I think you saw that a little bit from her tonight.”
Once Michigan begins to play higher-quality opponents, they will need a greater offensive contributor from Hillmon on a nightly basis. But after Friday, the Wolverines feel confident in their secondary scorers’ ability to pick up the slack during Hillmon’s worse offensive games.