COLUMBUS — Winning a rivalry game is hard. Winning a rivalry game on the road is harder.
That rule applies in most cases, but Thursday’s matchup proved itself an exception. The No. 7 Michigan women’s basketball team (18-2 overall, 9-1 Big Ten) obliterated No. 22 Ohio State (15-4, 7-3), 77-58, in the pair’s second bout of the season.
“Obviously coming here is never an easy task,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “They’re a great team, they’re a high-scoring, potent, offensive team. I thought we really established ourselves on the defensive end and it was awesome to see.”
The Wolverines relied on senior forward Naz Hillmon to build an early lead. Hillmon found herself a plethora of lightly-contested looks at the rim and made the most of them. If she didn’t convert on her first attempt, she was frequently grabbing offensive rebounds to get a second. Hillmon finished the first quarter with 10 points but found the bench early in the second quarter after picking up her second foul.
Hillmon’s exploits aside, Ohio State’s frequent defensive system switches gave Michigan’s offense trouble in the first half. The Buckeyes’ full-court trap produced five first-quarter turnovers, and Ohio State pulled itself within seven by the end of the quarter.
The Wolverines — with Hillmon stuck on the bench —still extended their lead before halftime. While Michigan’s second quarter offensive wasn’t superb, its defense more than made up for it — holding the Buckeyes to a measly seven points.
“They stay composed,” Hillmon said of her teammates. “Obviously, not having me on the floor is different, for the most part, but they really turned the notch and found out how to be successful in their own way.”
Ohio State wouldn’t go away, though. Senior guard Leigha Brown looked to change that, springing to life by scoring five points in the final 35 seconds of the half. Brown’s contributions sent Michigan into the half up 38-23.
The game teetered on the edge of becoming a blowout heading into the half, and the Wolverines quickly shoved it off the cliff in the third quarter. Brown picked up where she left off in the first half, scoring another five points in the first two minutes of the second half.
“I pride myself on my versatility, especially when my 3-point shot is falling,” Brown said. “It gives me more opportunity to drive past and get to the basket. Especially with Naz out I knew I was going to have to step up.”
Midway through the third quarter, junior guard Maddie Nolan hit a pair of 3-pointers from the right corner. All of a sudden, Michigan found itself wielding a commanding 28-point lead.
A staunch Wolverines defense prevented anything that resembled a comeback from the Buckeyes. After containing Ohio State guards Jacy Sheldon and Taylor Mikesell in the first half, Michigan completely shut them down in the second. Sheldon and Mikesell shot a combined 7-for-24 over the course of the game, the Buckeyes’ top options stalled.
“They came with a lot of screens, and our help defense was amazing,” Hillmon said. “Going into this game, we knew that we were going to make mistakes. But, just knowing that you have somebody behind you who will help you cover for whatever mistake you did make, that was a huge part.”
Hillmon continued to contribute on the offensive end throughout the second half — getting to the free-throw line as well as the rim — and Michigan’s lead continued to expand. Hillmon finished with a game-high 20 points, leading the drubbing as the Wolverines left Columbus with another dominant ranked win.