Michigan, Indiana women's basketball battle first place in Big Ten in top 10 showdown

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

As the Michigan women’s basketball team continues to make enormous strides nationally this season, now its focus is on taking the Big Ten lead.

The Wolverines, led by reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Naz Hillmon, are on a six-game winning streak and will face Indiana in a Top-10 matchup Monday night at the Crisler Center. Michigan, ranked No. 7, has beaten five ranked teams this season and will try to knock off another in the Hoosiers.

Forward Naz Hillmon (00) leads Michigan with 20.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.

Michigan is 18-2, 9-1 Big Ten while No. 6 Indiana is 14-2, 6-0 and currently atop the conference standings.

While the Wolverines are coming off a 77-58 win at No. 22 Ohio State last Thursday to sweep the season series with the Buckeyes, Indiana will be playing its first game in 15 days. The Hoosiers haven’t played since beating Purdue, 73-68, on Jan. 16 because COVID-19 protocols forced postponements of their last three games.

Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said during her postgame interview she wasn’t sure what to expect from Indiana because of the layoff. Some Indiana players might not be available, so her plan was to have the players focus on the Wolverines and what they do best and what needs to be improved.

“They haven’t played in a long time, so we’re going to prep for everyone,” Barnes Arico said of Indiana. “It’s such an interesting time in COVID you don’t know who’s going to be playing.

“They’ll be well-rested. That’s OK. We can’t worry about all that stuff.”

Hillmon, Michigan’s senior forward, leads the team averaging 20.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Senior guard Leigha Brown is averaging 15.1 points per game, while senior guard Emily Kiser adds 10.3 points per game.

Against the Buckeyes, Hillmon had 12 rebounds to increase her career total to 935, as she became Michigan's all-time leading rebounder. She passed Trish Andrew's previous record of 928.

“She seems like she breaks another record pretty much every single day,” Barnes Arico told reporters after the OSU game. “She’s a special player in our program the last four years, and her career’s not over yet. She’s not finished. She’s got a few more records under her belt, for sure.”

While Indiana likely will be rusty after the long layoff, the Hoosiers success this season has been sparked by their defense. They lead the Big Ten in defense, holding opponents to an average of 57.8 points per game, and teams are shooting just 37.2% from the field against them, second best in the league. No Indiana opponent has scored over 70 points this season.

During the six-game winning streak, Michigan has outscored teams by an average of 23 points. The Wolverines are averaging 73.6 points a game heading into this pivotal matchup.

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis