The performance of both the men’s and women’s basketball teams of the Michigan Wolverines have been a national story throughout the first half of the season. Both teams were undefeated at the same time up until a week ago, but the signature moment for either team was put up on Thursday afternoon.
The Wolverine women lost their first game of the season at No. 17 Ohio State on Thursday by a score of 81-77, but it was a 50-point outing from junior forward Naz Hillmon that created waves and national headlines. That scoring total is the most that any player has put up in NCAA women’s basketball this season. She also is now Michigan’s all-time highest scorer in a game, breaking the 45-point mark set by Diane Dietz in 1982 and Rudy Tomjanovich’s 48 points vs. Indiana in 1969.
Los Angeles Lakers forward (and Ohio State fan) LeBron James was among the players across the country to shoutout the massive effort.
“Naz had an incredible individual performance. I’ve coached some really great players in my time, and no, I’ve never seen a performance like that,” head coach Kim Barnes Arico said after the performance, via MLive. “I mean, she was pretty good against Nebraska (last season) when she had 35 and 22, and I think most people thought, ‘Man, that will never happen again.’
“How is that ever going to happen again when she’s circled on the top of everybody’s scouting report? They double-team her, triple-team, do whatever (they) have to do, and she still managed to do that. She was in that kind of refuse-to-lose mentality, and what a special night from an incredible player.”
Despite the head-turning showing, Hillmon was frustrated it did not lead to a victory. She did credit her teammates with feeding the hot hand when they saw that she was scoring at a blistering pace.
“We didn’t come out with the win, and that’s definitely something that we strive to do every time we step foot on the floor,” she said. “But I will just have to give credit to my teammates and my coaches. They saw that I was heating up, somewhat on fire, and they really got me the ball down the stretch. They just really opened up things for me, running play after play, giving me touches up and down the floor, whether that was in transition or in our half-court. And they just believed in me to make those shots.”
Barnes Arico is coaching a special player in Hillmon, who is the face of a program that is experiencing a breakout of its own this season. It’s the extra effort in addition to the talent that should keep her in the conversation as one of the best players in college basketball.
“She has an incredible motor,” Barnes Arico said. “She never stops. She pursues the basketball; she watches it and she pursues it. Then the other thing is her length. She’s under-sized, and most people will be like, ‘Oh, she can’t get away with being that size in a Power Five conference. She can’t get away with being that size in the WNBA or USA Basketball, but as much as she’s 6-1 or 6-2, whatever she is, her wingspan like 6 feet, so she can just go after the basketball. Her hands are incredible, they’re really strong, and she comes up with everything.”
The No. 11 Wolverines are back in action at home on Sunday against Purdue.