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Youngsters help Wolverines best Broncos in interstate clash

While the Michigan women’s basketball team’s game on Thursday ran for roughly one hour and 58 minutes, its outcome was pretty much sealed early in the second quarter. As the buzzer sounded at the University Center in Kalamazoo, the Wolverines (2-0) defeated Western Michigan (1-2), 79-42.

Michigan took a 22-11 lead after a first period which saw senior center Hallie Thome score eight early points on easy post-up opportunities. Late in the first quarter, Thome finally took a seat and paved the way for sophomore big Naz Hillmon to enter and take over the game. The bruising center dominated inside, gobbling up boards on the offensive glass and notching tough finishes inside en route to nine points at the half, helping Michigan out to a 38-17 lead.

While the two bigs were sensational in the first half, Michigan was able to enjoy a sizable halftime edge thanks to its defensive efforts. It limited the Broncos to 10.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc in addition to forcing five turnovers. 

While Friday night’s season opener saw returning starters Thome and sophomore forward Hailey Brown dazzle in their first games of the season, Thursday night’s win instead highlighted Hillmon and fellow freshman point guard Amy Dilk. The two put on a show, as Hillmon scored a career-high 20 points on eight-for-nine shooting and seven rebounds.

Dilk scored 11 points to go along with five rebounds and three assists. Two of her assists came on sensational passes to Hillmon for tough finishes inside, which helped highlight a pairing that should prove to be extremely dangerous as they continue to develop their games.

“She’s my roommate, so we have pretty good chemistry,” Hillmon joked.

While Dilk garnered many of the headlines heading into the season as a five-star recruit and Katelynn Flaherty’s heir apparent, Hillmon has been equally as impressive to start the year. Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico spoke glowingly of her young center after the game.

“She’s got a chance to be something,” Barnes Arico said on WTKA’s “Inside Michigan Basketball” radio show after the game.

When assessing the stats of Michigan’s dominant victory, there’s one number that truly sticks out: 40. It represents the rebounding differential from tonight’s contest, with the Wolverines, unsurprisingly, holding a mammoth-sized edge. The team also won the battle on the offensive glass, hauling in 15 rebounds on their own end. After the game, Kim Barnes Arico was in disbelief when she was informed about the stat.

“We might not shoot the three as well as last year,” she said, “but we can rebound the heck outta basketball!”

With the game clearly out of reach in the fourth quarter, Barnes Arico had an opportunity to empty her bench and give meaningful minutes to players who do not often see the court, including sophomore forward Priscilla Smeenge, freshman center Emily Kiser and senior forward Samantha Trammell.

“I think it’s really valuable for them to get the game experience,” Barnes Arico said.

And with the game decided so early, Thursday’s contest was the best place to get that experience.

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