“Rebounding was our No. 1 goal. We knew we’d have an advantage on the boards,” Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico said on the BTN broadcast moments after her Wolverines sent Nebraska packing from the 2020 Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament in Indianapolis.
“That was really key for us. For us to go into halftime only down eight, with as well as Nebraska was shooting the ball and Naz (Hillmon) being in foul trouble, we felt like we’d be in good shape.”
Couldn’t have hit the nail more squarely on the head. Nebraska got Michigan’s super sophomore forward, Hillmon, in foul trouble midway through the first quarter, and then took advantage of the best player sitting on the bench. But when she came back into the game in the second quarter, Nebraska couldn’t get her back off the floor. And so Michigan, led by Hillmon’s tenacity on the offensive glass, flexed its muscles and turned a 14-point deficit into just eight after 20 minutes of play.
The Wolverines, led by five more offensive rebounds, five points from Hillmon, and seven points from guard Amy Dilk all in the third quarter, then outscored Nebraska 24-10 over the third and walked away with a win.
The 10th-seeded Huskers, for the third time in the last four seasons, went one-and-done at the conference tournament thanks to a 81-75 loss to the seventh-seeded Wolverines.
Hillmon sat down with 5:59 to play in the first quarter, and stayed on the bench until the 7:30 mark of the second quarter. During that stretch, the Huskers went on a 23-6 run wrestle control away from the Wolverines.
Husker forwards Issie Bourne and Kayla Mershon anchored NU inside while guard Sam Haiby and recently-minted B1G Sixth Woman of the Year Leigha Brown got hot from the perimeter. Brown and Bourne each had 11 at the halftime break, Haiby had seven. Mershon locked up UM’s posts up and down the floor.
Ten offensive rebounds kept Michigan within striking distance though. Would Husker coach Amy Williams have liked to have built a larger lead with one of the Big Ten’s premier players on the bench for so much of the first half? Likely. But Nebraska couldn’t keep the Wolverines off the glass, with or without Hillmon in the picture.
A 14-2 run to open the third featured four layups from the Wolverines. Hillmon and Dilk each put forth an assault on the rim and Nebraska struggled to keep either at bay.
Nebraska exchanged buckets the rest of the way or couldn’t rebound loose balls on the possessions it was able to force misses.
Michigan finished with 19 offensive rebounds, 24 second-chance points and 50 points in the paint.
That about tells the story.
Dilk finished with 22 points (8-of-15 shooting) and six assists. Hillmon went for 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists; she was whistled for just one foul over the final 25 minutes on the floor.
Brown put up her eighth 20-point game of the season (22 points, 9-of-14 shooting, six assists) and Bourne added 16, but Nebraska got zero points from starting point guard Hannah Whitish (usually a bad omen) and only two rebounds and 15 minutes from starting center Kate Cain.
The Huskers now sit at 17-13 on the season. A 13-2 start gave way to a 4-11 finish. Now, Williams and company will have to wait for what may only be a WNIT bid. The selection show for both the NCAA Tournament and the WNIT will take place on Monday, March 16.