“This game will be a pit in our stomachs moving forward.”
A little over a week ago, following a dramatic overtime loss to No. 10 Ohio State, Michigan women’s basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico explained how the defeat was particularly painful. Not only did the team lose a back-and-forth game, but it was against the rival Buckeyes. To make matters worse, as Barnes Arico put it, the Wolverines “had every opportunity down the stretch to win that game.” Those chances included a two-point lead with under 20 seconds to go and a missed shot at the end of regulation that would have won the game.
But as Barnes Arico was quick to point out, No. 23 Michigan (4-2 Big Ten, 15-4 overall) would soon have another chance. And that chance of redemption comes this Tuesday when the Wolverines travel to Columbus, Ohio.
For Michigan to come out on top, it must draw on its last matchup.
When looking at the box score of last week’s game, the two teams were virtually identical in every statistical category. But what separated Ohio State (5-0, 16-2) was its experience.
The Buckeyes’ starting lineup consists of two redshirt seniors, two seniors and one redshirt junior. When looking at the entire roster, there is only one freshman and two sophomores — the other eight players are all fourth or fifth-year players.
So the majority of Ohio State players have been in that kind of pressure situation before. They’ve been in many closely contested games, plenty of rivalry matchups and have experienced the pressure and high-level play of the NCAA Tournament – something no Wolverine has familiarity with.
Under the leadership of senior guard Kelsey Mitchell, the composed Buckeyes controlled the game in overtime, outscoring Michigan, 14 to 7.
The majority of the Wolverines have yet to play in many college rivalry games with both conference and national rankings on the line, and that showed.
When looking at Michigan’s starters, it has two seniors in guard Katelynn Flaherty and forward Jillian Dunston, two juniors in center Hallie Thome and Nicole Munger and a freshman in forward Hailey Brown. The Wolverines’ first player off the bench, Deja Church, is also a freshman.
The lack of experience proved most detrimental in the last two possessions of regulation, where questionable shot selection allowed for an easy Ohio State basket to tie the game.
But this shouldn’t discourage the Wolverines.
If anything, Michigan should feel confident knowing that it can compete with the nation’s best teams. For 40 minutes, the Wolverines went toe-to-toe with a great team. In some stretches, they dominated the Buckeyes. This was most evident in the second quarter, when Michigan held Ohio State to just six points.
So the Wolverines should be optimistic going into Tuesday. But only if they’ve learned from their mistakes.
The biggest takeaway from the previous matchup is how to play in the final moments of a close game.
“I think the last possession of the game … we all started to look for Kate,” Barnes Arico said. “I think any of our kids in the moment could have taken over.”
With everyone in the Crisler Center knowing that the ball was going to Flaherty, perhaps it was time for another Wolverine to step up. For someone else to get open, to make a move and take that shot. Instead, Michigan looked overwhelmed and solely relied on Flaherty.
So for the Wolverines to flip the script, they must take a note from the Buckeyes and stay poised down the stretch without forcing anything.
If it’s another close game, this may be the difference come Tuesday.