How Naz Hillmon's big week helped Michigan stay on the right side of the bubble

Naz Hillmon scored a career-high 30 points on 14-for-19 shooting on Sunday to lead Michigan to a 78-63 upset of No. 18 Iowa. Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire

After coming up short against one ranked team Thursday, Michigan felt a sense of urgency against another on Sunday. And Wolverines' sophomore forward Naz Hillmon answered the call.

She had a career-high 30 points, plus 10 rebounds, as Michigan upset No. 18 Iowa 78-63 in Ann Arbor on Sunday. That and her 27-point, 8-rebound, 5-assist game, albeit in a loss, against No. 23 Northwestern on Thursday earned Hillmon the espnW national player of the week.

"We've had a little bit of a rocky start to the Big Ten season, and this win is very important to our confidence for sure," Hillmon said after beating the Hawkeyes. "The Big Ten's a tough league, and to get this one is huge. It'll definitely help us later on."

Another Big Ten player, Northwestern junior guard Lindsay Pulliam, was one of Hillmon's top competitors for the weekly honor, which speaks to the depth of the league. In his latest Bracketology projection, ESPN.com's Charlie Creme has nine Big Ten teams in the NCAA tournament field, the most of any conference.

Does the league have a strong Final Four threat? Maybe not, but the Big Ten could still do some damage during March Madness. And the league tournament -- March 4-8 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis -- feels up for grabs.

For Hillmon and the Wolverines, Sunday's victory over Iowa was important for Michigan's NCAA tournament résumé; Creme has them as a No. 10 seed. Iowa is now 9-2, tied with Northwestern atop the Big Ten. The Wolverines are 5-5, tied with Ohio State for seventh in the league. That's right in the middle of the pack, and Michigan has a chance to make up more ground the rest of February.

Hillmon will be a key to doing that, as the 6-foot-2 post player has been building on last season, when she was the media's choice for Big Ten freshman of the year (Maryland's Taylor Mikesell was the coaches' pick). Hillmon was also the league's sixth woman of the year in 2019, as she led the Wolverines in scoring, rebounding and shooting percentage, and had eight double-doubles.

This season, she already has seven double-doubles, and is averaging 17.3 points and 8.8 rebounds. Hillmon's importance to the Wolverines grew even more with the news that senior forward Kayla Robbins would miss the rest of the season with an ACL tear suffered vs. Nebraska on Jan. 19.

Hillmon's ability on defense is as important to Michigan as what she does offensively, and that also stood out against Iowa.

"Fortunately, we have Naz, who can guard any position," Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. "And that really helps a lot."

Also nominated: Kelly Campbell, DePaul; Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon; Aari McDonald, Arizona; Khayla Pointer, LSU; Lindsay Pulliam, Northwestern

Previous winners: Tyasha Harris, South Carolina (Jan. 27); Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon (Jan. 20); Ja'Tavia Tapley, Arizona State (Jan. 13); Rhyne Howard, Kentucky (Jan. 6); Kaila Charles, Maryland (Dec. 30); Charli Collier, Texas (Dec. 23); Ashley Joens, Iowa State (Dec. 16); Megan Walker, UConn (Dec. 9); Dana Evans, Louisville (Dec. 2); Jaelyn Brown, Cal (Nov. 25); Aari McDonald, Arizona (Nov. 18); Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon (Nov. 11)