COLUMBUS — The seniors on the Michigan women’s basketball team had never won on the road against Ohio State. Tonight they flipped the script, so the natural question is, how’d they do it?
Points in the paint.
In the seventh-ranked Wolverines’ matchup with the 22nd-ranked Buckeyes, Michigan capitalized on its interior dominance.
Senior forward Naz Hillmon dominated on the low block from the get-go. Her 10 first-half points and early command of the post gave the Wolverines a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
The Buckeyes understood that shutting down Hillmon was their key to winning. They face-guarded her at the start of the game, but as Hillmon continued to drop in buckets, Ohio State tried to adjust, flipping into a zone.
“They were face-guarding Naz at the beginning so we knew we would have those high low situations,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “And we tried to definitely go to Naz early and (senior forward) Emily (Kiser) made some great decisions getting her touches inside.”
While the zone initially troubled Michigan, Kiser stepped up in the high post. Working a high-low offense in the paint, Kiser and Hillmon continued to be a dynamic duo inside. By exploiting the mismatches that come with the Buckeyes’ playing four shooting guards, Hillmon and Kiser posed problems for Ohio State in the paint all night.
“ … We knew (about the mismatches) coming into this game because we played them last time and it was kind of the same deal,” Hillmon said. “So really making sure that we honed in on that and just make sure I’m getting those passes to her right spot knowing that she has a guard on her.”
Despite her early success, Hillmon picked up two fouls in the first quarter, relegating her to the bench for much of the second. With Hillmon out, senior wing Leigha Brown saw her role on the floor grow. Slashing through the paint, Brown came alive in the second quarter. She ended the half with nine points, the majority of which came from driving layups.
“To kind of drive past to get to the basket, especially with Naz out I knew I was gonna have to kind of step up,” Brown said. “They were going on a run.”
As the game wore on, points in the paint became all that much easier for the Wolverines. With Hillmon back in the lineup, the Buckeyes couldn’t stop the onslaught of points from the trio of Hillmon, Kiser and Brown. Through nearly three quarters of play, the Wolverines’ 32 paint points exceeded Ohio State’s total score.
As the Wolverines look towards their biggest game of the season Monday against No. 6 Indiana, the continued command of the paint and ability to build off of Kiser and Hillmon’s chemistry will only help Michigan moving forward.