The Michigan women’s basketball team has had a historic season, posting their best start in program history and dropping just two of its first 19 games. Despite how well the Wolverines have played this season, there are still demons they have yet to exorcise.
Michigan knows first hand just how difficult it is to play Ohio State on the road: the Wolverines have won just five of their previous 35 games in Columbus. Michigan’s last win in Value City Arena was four years ago, when senior forward Naz Hillmon, who is from Cleveland, Ohio, was still in high school.
Following a successful two-game homestand, the Wolverines head to Columbus to face the Buckeyes Thursday night. On paper, Michigan is the clear favorite, as it cruised to a 90-71 home victory in December.
“Our mindset is to go in there, play as hard as we can and try to walk out of there with the (victory),” Hillmon said. “But they’re not necessarily the same team that we played last time.”
Since losing to Michigan on New Year’s eve, Ohio State has strung together six straight victories, including a home win against No. 12 Maryland, averaging an impressive 85.3 points per game during the stretch.
“We have to know that they’re going to come out gunning,” Hillmon said. “They’re feeling very confident and are hitting shots.”
Adding to the Buckeyes’ momentum, senior guard Braxtin Miller is returning to the starting lineup. Miller, who missed the earlier loss to the Wolverines, is the team’s second-leading source of assists. Her return will complicate Michigan’s task of beating Ohio State in Columbus.
“When we played them a couple weeks ago, they had one of their best players down,” Hillmon said. “She makes a huge difference for them.”
The Buckeyes also return two top scorers from last year: guard Jacy Sheldon, and guard Kateri Poole. Sheldon and Poole are shooting 21.3 and 7.4 points per game. Following their win streak, Sheldon has stepped up, averaging 25.3 points per game during this period, scoring at least 32 points in three of her last six games.
Since the last matchup in Ann Arbor, Ohio State’s shooting has improved markedly. Senior guard Taylor Mikesell has thrived from behind the arc lately, leading the team in 3-pointers and 3-point shooting percentage. Since the loss to the Wolverines, she’s accumulated two 30-point games and scored at least 20 points in four of her last six outings adding to the team’s offensive threat.
“They have two phenomenal shooters and have a really great team that’s playing well,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said.
Despite riding a six game win streak, the Buckeyes have flaws, they have allowed 74.7 points per game during their streak — tied for 15th-worst in the nation. Their offense, which ranks fourth in the nation in points per game, has overshadowed their lackluster defense. Michigan will look to hold Ohio State on the scoresheet and attack weak spots in the Buckeyes defense in order to escape with a victory.
“The Big Ten is different,” Barnes Arico said. “Conference play is really different going on the road. Starting on Thursday, it’s a change of mindset.”
For Michigan’s seniors, the upcoming trip to Columbus is particularly significant — none have tasted victory against Ohio State on the road.
“(The Buckeyes) will be gunning for us as they always do there,” Barnes Arico said. “They’re back in the top 25, so it’ll be an incredible matchup.”