Two players by the name of Kelsey Mitchell will step onto the Crisler Center court Thursday evening — one of them for Michigan, the other for Ohio State. One of them recently notched personal highs for her first career double-double, and the other is second in the entire country, and first in the Big Ten, in scoring.
Michigan senior forward Kelsey Mitchell and Ohio State sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell will meet for the first time in their careers Thursday night, when the Michigan women’s basketball team (3-3 Big Ten, 11-6 overall) hosts the seventh-ranked Buckeyes.
Mitchell, the Buckeye, is averaging 25.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.1 steals. Last year, she led the nation in scoring and helped Ohio State reach the Sweet 16.
“Ohio State has everyone returning from a great season last year,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico in her weekly interview with WTKA. “(Ohio State’s Mitchell) is one of the top players in the nation. She’s just an incredible scorer.”
The Buckeyes (5-1, 13-4) don’t need to rely solely on Mitchell, though, as they have a solid, balanced attack force alongside her. Guard Ameryst Alston, who is averaging more than 18 points per game, and forward Alexa Hart (10.8 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game) have been making themselves heard as well.
Mitchell, the Wolverine, was injured last season for both games against Ohio State. Michigan split the season series, with both teams winning at home.
This year, the two teams meet only once in the regular season, which could help or hurt Michigan.
Last week, Michigan nearly took down now-No. 5 Maryland, but fell behind late when Mitchell and freshman center Hallie Thome got into foul trouble.
Michigan added a loss to the record, but more importantly, it gave up the chance to snag a big win against a top-ranked opponent. The Wolverines have put up performances similar to that one earlier this season, nearly beating now-No. 20 UCLA, but they still lack a marquee win to boost their NCAA Tournament aspirations.
Just like the Maryland and UCLA matchups, Michigan’s opponent Thursday is the favorite, but a win would significantly aid the Wolverines’ resume.
With the way Michigan’s Mitchell has been playing lately, the Wolverines will have a fighting chance. Against Iowa in early January, she had 15 points and 11 rebounds, both career highs.
“I don’t remember playing like this since high school,” Mitchell said after the game.
The senior forward has sustained multiple injuries over her four years at Michigan, and she barely saw any playing time until this year. At the beginning of the season, Barnes Arico praised her impressive preseason performances, and even felt like she might have a breakout season similar to former Wolverine forward Cyesha Goree.
Ohio State’s Mitchell likely will be her team’s leading scorer Thursday, but the Wolverines have a lights-out shooter of their own. Sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty is tied at 10th in the nation for points per game with 22.1, a number she has continued to build upon in recent showings.
Sunday, the Wolverines left Penn State with their first win in State College since 2001, thanks in part to a performance from Flaherty, who scored 23 points on 5-for-10 shooting.
However, the Nittany Lions are no Buckeyes.
“(Ohio State is) gonna be tough,” Barnes Arico said. “They’re off to a great season. They do the dribble drive. They try to draw fouls. They shoot the 3 exceptionally well. They’re gonna be another great test and great game for us at home.”