Sunday, February 25, 2024

Nia vs. Naz: the state of Michigan's star seniors face-off one last time

February 25, 2022
<p>Senior guard Nia Clouden (24) eyes senior forward Naz Hillmon as she shoots. Clouden had 22 points and Hillmon had 28 with both players living up to their expectations of prolific scorers. The Wolverines defeated the Spartans 62-51 at the Crisler Center on Feb 24., 2022.</p>

Senior guard Nia Clouden (24) eyes senior forward Naz Hillmon as she shoots. Clouden had 22 points and Hillmon had 28 with both players living up to their expectations of prolific scorers. The Wolverines defeated the Spartans 62-51 at the Crisler Center on Feb 24., 2022.

Photo by Evan Freeman | The State News

It’s the end of an era in the Michigan-Michigan State women’s basketball rivalry. Michigan senior forward Naz Hillmon and Michigan State senior guard Nia Clouden faced off for likely the last time in their college careers with their last scheduled matchup taking place Thursday in Ann Arbor. 

The two stars have led their teams this year and have certainly been forces to be reckoned with in their college careers. Over the past four years, Hillmon and the Wolverines are 4-3 against Clouden and the Spartans.

This season, the two teams split the series with each getting a win on their home court. During these matchups Hillmon and Clouden were the leading scorers for their teams, almost canceling each other out as MSU Head Coach Suzy Merchant joked.

Despite four years of playing against each other in one of college basketball’s most intense rivalries, Clouden and Hillmon had nothing but kind words for each other.

“As much as I say we’ve seen the evolution of our team, you get to see some of those other seniors from different schools and she’s (Clouden) been a killer since she’s come to Michigan State,” Hillmon said. “It’s been a great battle. It kind of shows the growth of our league, how people stay and continue to push each other and make the conference stronger.”

”Naz, she’s a great player, so just getting to match up with her and both us just trying to lead our teams to the big three and just battling it out everytime we play is just a really fun game,” Clouden said.

Merchant also showed great sportsmanship by going to shake the hands of the Michigan seniors, including Hillmon, that were being honored during the game on Thursday after her team’s loss.

“Those four have done a lot for that program and Naz in particular was someone I wanted to make sure I congratulated on the season they’re having and wished them the best down the stretch,” Merchant said.

She also had some kind words for Clouden and expressed her appreciation for work she’s put in over the past four years.

“She’s a class act, full of integrity, work ethic, she’s a self made player and she was not a five star coming out of high school, but really has grinded it out and stayed the course,” Merchant said. 

According to Merchant, the WNBA will be getting two exceptional players who trust the process and put in the work.

“She’ll (Clouden) be a top draft pick and so will Naz. When you see two kids like that do it the right way through work ethic, commitment to be the best versions of themselves and leading their team, you just really appreciate it as coaches,” Merchant said.

Both Hillmon and Clouden are expected to forgo their extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic and declare for the WNBA draft at the end of this season.

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