The best season in program history for the Michigan women’s basketball team came to a close Monday night, as the Wolverines fell to the Louisville Cardinals, 62-50.
The Cardinals used their smothering defense to pester the Wolverines all night long, forcing Michigan to turn the ball over 22 times. U-M could never really get into a good offensive rhythm, only converting on 34.8% of its field goals and 21.8% of its threes.
Part of what made Louisville so successful was its ability to match the size of Hillmon, throwing defenders at the star post player and making it hard for her to thrive.
While Hillmon did have 18 points and 11 rebounds, they didn’t come as easy as they did in games past. The Cardinals really made her life harder on offense. She had to earn every basket, and Louisville did a great job making sure she could not establish good post positioning in the paint. They not only fronted her for good portions of the game, but also having another defender put an arm in the passing lane, making an entry pass into the post like a game of Kerplunk.
Other Wolverines did their part to keep Michigan within a few baskets on offense. Laila Phelia earned a few tough buckets (eight points, four rebounds), Emily Kiser had a really solid game in the post (six points, six rebounds, three assists) and Maddie Nolan hit some big time threes off the bench (nine points).
Those contributions weren’t enough to keep up with Louisville on offense. While the Wolverines did force Louisville into a lot of tough shots and forcing more than a few of Louisville’s 12 turnovers, the Cardinals just seemed to be one step ahead of the Wolverines on the offensive end, always making the right pass and capitalizing on every opportunity in transition. It was tough for Michigan to compete, especially given the 5+ minute stretch without a field goal in that fourth quarter.
Louisville was the better team, and certainly played like it in this one. They’ll face South Carolina in what should be a very entertaining Final Four.
As for the Wolverines, while this season did not end how they would have wanted, this group still needs to be celebrated for having the best season in program history.
They can boast an impressive 25-7 record to go along with a 13-4 conference record. They earned their first ever win over a top-five ranked team when they defeated No. 5 Baylor in overtime back in December. They earned their highest AP Poll ranking ever as the No. 4 team in the country in February. And they went to their first ever Elite Eight, the best postseason finish of any other Big Ten team this season.
They wouldn’t have been able to accomplish that without the play of their seniors. Leigha Brown and Amy Dilk battled injuries for a good portion of the year, but were leaders who stepped up when Michigan needed them most this year. Kiser and Danielle Rauch were key contributors who did a lot of dirty work and became vital pieces towards a successful season.
And there aren’t enough good things you can say about Naz Hillmon. She’s one of the best players, man or woman, to ever wear the Maize and Blue. She’s the first U-M women’s basketball player to earn first team All-America honors, and the only basketball player in Michigan history to rack up 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds over her Michigan career.
Young post players should be shown highlights of her game at basketball clinics around the country not only because of her elite footwork and trusty finishing her ability, but the effort she plays with on both ends is contagious and astounding.
She is projected to be a top pick in the WNBA Draft, and she’s got a lengthy pro career ahead of her. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on her basketball future.
Also, shoutout to Kim Barnes Arico for another incredible season at the helm. She has truly transformed this program since coming to Michigan in 2012, and now has the postseason success to raise the eyebrows of a lot of talented recruits.
With KBA at the helm and Nolan and Phelia returning, this program is still in a good spot. Hopefully they can continue to build on the success of the last few seasons and eventually make Ann Arbor a premiere destination for young female basketball players.