In its second top-15 matchup in four days, the No. 11 Michigan women’s basketball team (13-2 overall, 8-2 Big Ten) beat No. 15 Ohio State (13-4, 9-4), 75-66, behind a balanced scoring effort and explosive third quarter.
The last time these two teams played, the Wolverines found themselves in a hole early, trailing by as many as 16 points in the first half. It turned out to be a hole they couldn’t climb out of as Michigan’s slow start and lack of balanced scoring turned into its first loss of the season.
On Sunday, the Wolverines made sure to avoid the same pitfall, maintaining a lead throughout the first half despite struggling to get their offense going early. Their offensive woes were matched by the Buckeyes, as each team shot 33.3% from the field in the first half.
With junior forward Naz Hillmon having an uncharacteristically slow start to the game, junior point guard Amy Dilk kept Michigan’s offense afloat in the first half, scoring 10 points through the first 20 minutes. As Hillmon went to the bench for the first time, Dilk immediately scored the team’s only 3-pointer of the half, giving Michigan a lead it wouldn’t relinquish with 5:40 minutes remaining.
“(Dilk) was super aggressive initially and that really calmed everybody else down,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “Sometimes Hillmon may press or (Leigha Brown) may press because they feel like they need to score to help us be successful. But when you have (Dilk) come out of the gates and be as offensively aggressive — get to the rim and knock down open shots like she did — that gives everyone a chance to catch their breath and realize, ‘I don’t have to do this by myself.’ ”
Hillmon’s early inefficiency was impossible to ignore. She missed her first two shots of the game, the first in the paint and the second on her trademark catch and pivot move.
The second half, though, was a different story. Starting the third quarter with a three-point lead, Michigan came out of the locker room hot. On the first possession, Dilk air-balled a deep 3-point attempt, but junior wing Leigha Brown followed it up by hitting a three on the next possession. Visibly frustrated with her shooting woes in the first half, Brown’s 3-pointer was much needed for her confidence and increased the Wolverines’ lead to six.
Brown’s 3-pointer turned on a switch for Michigan’s offense, something they attributed to their team’s veteran experience and confidence.
“It can be an easy turn from air balls to making a big shot,” senior forward Hailey Brown said. “We were all in (Leigha Brown’s) ear, especially, telling her ‘you’re going to make the next one.’ Having halftime and being able to talk about what we are seeing and what we can change (was really important).”
Throughout the third quarter, Michigan used a more aggressive defensive attack to force steals and dominate the glass on both ends. Within the minutes, the Wolverines tallied more second-chance points than the entirety of the first half.
Michigan went on a 10-0 scoring run over the first three minutes of the half to push its lead to 14. On the other side of the court, the Wolverines’ defense smothered Ohio State’s offensive attack with a more aggressive defense in the paint.
All night, Michigan locked down forward Dorka Juhász. The National Player of the Year candidate was held to only one point, which came at the line, and went 0-for-8 shooting from the field. Without a true center, the Wolverines’ height disadvantage has come to light recently, but the defensive effort against Juhász today showed how Michigan can match up against bigger players. Michigan outscored Ohio State in the paint, 44 to 26.
“Something that we’ve really been emphasizing is how we can get in the gaps and how we can become a better post defensive team,” Barnes Arico said. “In the last few games, our post players have really taken that to heart.”
Facing a 16-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes tried to claw back into the game, eventually cutting the lead to just six with 1:50 minutes to go. Michigan turned the ball over seven times in the fourth quarter, losing its composure a bit down the stretch. Furthermore, foul trouble once again became an issue for the Wolverines as Hillmon picked up her fourth foul in the final quarter. While Michigan was able to close out the win, it didn’t come without focusing on areas that need improvement.
“(There were) many times we could extend our lead, but we didn’t, and I think it all goes back to our turnovers and getting few stops on defense,” Hailey Brown said. “(If) we clean up our turnovers and we can continue to get stops on defense, I think that we’ll definitely be able to close better and build on those leads.”
It wasn’t a pretty finish, but the Wolverines snapped a three-game losing streak against the Buckeyes and secured their best win of the season.
“It’s obviously a huge win against a ranked opponent and the only team we got to play twice this season,” Dilk said. “(After what our team has been through) we’re definitely excited about this. We just got to celebrate every (game we play) but obviously this one was huge.”