In its last game of the regular season, the Michigan women’s basketball team never led and was unable to close the deal against one of its biggest rival.
Squaring off against Ohio State (6-9 Big Ten, 16-12 overall) in Columbus for their last game of the regular season, the Wolverines lost 66-55.
It was the first time these teams met this season, making the matchup even more anticipated than normal.
“I thought they had a good game plan,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “They always had people in the paint making the third or fourth option have to score, and that really bothered us.”
Michigan (9-7, 20-9) got to the basket with ease in its first two possessions, but the Buckeyes were able to match them point for point and beyond, leading to a quick 11-6 lead, kick started by senior guard Taylor Hill’s five quick points.
But with 12:39 remaining in the half, Wolverine senior forward Kate Thompson hit back-to-back 3-pointers, cutting the lead to one. After misses by both teams, senior forward Sam Arnold hit a one handed hook shot to tie the game at 16 with 8:55 to go in the half.
A three-point play from Ohio State followed by a turnover from Ryan led to another 3-pointer from sophomore guard Raven Ferguson, which stretched the Buckeyes’ lead to 18-26 with 5:45 left in the half. With less than four minutes to go, Arnold hit a huge 3-pointer to stop Ohio State’s run, cutting the lead to five.
Three fouls in 20 seconds ended the Buckeyes’ momentum, which led to them missing their next five shots. Still, Michigan was unable to capitalize, only hitting two free throws during that span. Ohio State hit a shot with three seconds to go, putting it up 30-25 at halftime.
“I thought we played hard,” Barnes Arico said. “We (really) played hard in the second half, (and) we cut it a few times, but we just couldn’t get over the hump.
“They were able to make plays every time we cut (their lead). They made shots, they shared the basketball, they had a ton of assists and they made every play when they needed to. They held us in the 50s, and we need to be able to score more than that (We) have to give credit to Ohio State.”
The Wolverines started the second half much like they finished the first — unable to connect on their shots. They opened the half 1-for-4. Three straight layups by Michigan gave life to the sluggish Wolverines, who cut the deficit to one with 14:23 remaining. After a quick 30-second timeout from the Buckeye bench, both teams exchanged 3-pointers.
Turnovers and missed shots continued to be the story for Michigan in the beginning of the second half. A three-point play from senior center Rachel Sheffer put the Wolverines back within three. Sheffer’s hot hand kept Michigan within striking distance, as she scored 13 of the team’s first 24 points of the half. Sheffer ended the game with 19 points and eight rebounds.
“Rachel did a great job,” Barnes Arico said. “She really did a nice job of taking advantage of (some) of her mismatches. She (really) had a great game.”
The last three minutes of the game began with the Wolverines down by five, with Barnes Arico putting all five of her seniors on the floor. Hoping to find some last minute magic, the Wolverines came up short, and a turnover with 59 seconds remaining sealed the deal. Hill led the way for the Buckeyes with 20 points.
“Taylor is a really good ball player, but (this) team is really coming on strong,” Barnes Arico said. “Everyone talks about Taylor Hill, but the other girls did a lot too. They are a really good team and I think they were expected to win a bunch more.”
After going 1-7 in January, the Buckeyes turned it around in February by winning five of seven. Ohio State continued their hot run by shooting 54.3-percent from the field. Despite never leading in the game, the Wolverines shot 50 percent.
Michigan had three other players in double digits to go along with Sheffer’s 19-point performance. Jordan, Thompson and Arnold each added ten points.
A victory would have given the Wolverines the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten tournament, and a first round bye, but a loss puts its fate into other hands. Michigan can no longer finish as the three seed, but it can still earn a bye as a four seed if Michigan State loses to Wisconsin Sunday afternoon.
“There’s no easy game, every team is a quality team, so I think it’s going to be a really good tournament,” Barnes Arico said. “We (probably) don’t have the bye, so now we have to get ready to play more.”