The Michigan women’s basketball team finally heeded the grade school cheer: “Be aggressive, B-E Aggressive, B-E A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E.”
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, their aggression wasn’t enough to clinch a victory against No. 15 Ohio State last night. Michigan attacked the basket with backdoor cuts, good positioning and nifty passes but couldn’t pull out the victory, losing 52-44 at Crisler Arena.
For the second consecutive game, junior center Krista Phillips started over senior Stephany Skrba to defend a bigger opponent. This time, it was junior Jantel Lavender, the Buckeyes’ best player.
Not stopping her down the stretch proved to be the deciding factor in the game.
“I thought we did a good job in the first half (defending Lavender),” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said. “In the second half, they shot 20 free throws. They shot a lot around that basket. … They (just said) ‘We’re going to throw it in there, and see if you can stop us,’ and we just didn’t do it.”
Lavender, who won her fourth Big Ten Player of the Week award on Tuesday, came into the game averaging a gaudy 21.6 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. To put those numbers into context, seniors Melinda Queen, Carly Benson and Skrba came into the game averaging 24 points per game and 12.7 rebounds per game combined.
Lavender finished the game with 17 points and nine rebounds. Michigan was led by Queen and freshman guard Courtney Boylan, who both notched 10 points.
Less than a minute into the game, sophomore Veronica Hicks dove on the floor for a loose ball. She came up angry after being called for traveling and Benson quickly covered Hicks’ mouth, but she couldn’t hide Hicks’ intensity. The urgency was obvious from the start.
Hicks proceeded to score the game’s first points on the next possession.
Michigan drove to the basket in the first half, finishing strong in the lane. Its efforts led to easy baskets and trips to the free-throw line, and the team’s first eight points came on layups. The Wolverines shot 8-of-11 from the charity stripe in the first 20 minutes.
Michigan led by one at halftime despite not making a single field goal for the final 10 minutes and 32 seconds. The free throws made the difference in the first half – but that all changed in the second.
The Wolverines didn’t shoot a single free throw after the break and Ohio State powered its way to the free-throw line, shooting 16-of-20 freebies in the final frame.
Trading basket for basket throughout the game, Michigan cut the Buckeye lead to two with just under three minutes to play. Hicks started to bring the ball up the court but Ann Arbor native and Ohio State guard Shavelle Little tipped it away. Her effort led to a three-pointer by sophomore guard Brittany Johnson from the left wing that created an insurmountable Buckeye lead.
The Wolverines proceeded to turn the ball over on their next two possessions and Michigan was outscored 14-5 in the last 10 minutes of the game.
The Buckeye win improved Ohio State coach Jim Foster’s record to an impressive 10-0 mark against Michigan. He could have learned the secret to success from his predecessors – the Buckeyes have now won 45 of the 51 all-time matchups between the two schools.
Though Ohio State’s defense gave Michigan trouble in the two teams’ first matchup, the Wolverines handled the scheme well on Thursday.
“I thought we handled (the pressure) a lot better tonight,” Borseth said. “(Little) got a steal and to me, that was critical. That led to a three-point shot. That was huge.”
Michigan shot 2-of-20 from beyond the arc, with Boylan responsible for both baskets. But when the Ohio State defense tightened during crunch time, the Wolverines continued to take 3-pointers instead of driving to the lane. Borseth defended the “in rhythm” shots and shrugged his shoulders at the fact that the shots didn’t fall.
Michigan stays at home to face Wisconsin (4-6, 14-7) on Sunday. A few weeks ago, Michigan lost by four points in Madison, which was the loss that sparked their current six-game losing streak.
And the Wolverines will find out how much heart they really have soon enough.
“It is pretty easy to show up to practice after you win games,” Borseth said. “But when you lose games time after time, then you find out a lot about yourself.
“It comes down to tomorrow. I’ll be able to see when they walk through that door whether they have fire in their eyes or fire in their belly. That’s what they need.”