In its first matchup against Ohio State on Dec. 31, the Michigan women’s basketball team committed 27 turnovers and shot 60.7% from the free throw line en route to a nine-point loss.
In their second clash with the 16th-ranked Buckeyes on Monday, the 12th-ranked Wolverines fell short once again in a 74-61 loss, unable to secure a win in the rivalry series.
But the parallels between the two contests didn’t stop there.
In Columbus, Michigan scored eight unanswered points to start the game, forcing an Ohio State timeout. Out of that break, the Buckeyes came out swinging and never looked back.
In Crisler Center on Monday, Michigan jumped out to a 10-2 lead in the opening minutes, forcing an Ohio State timeout once again. Just like two months ago, the Buckeyes came out of the break rejuvenated as they knocked down the first of eight straight 3-pointers, stepping on the gas and never easing off.
“It happened the first time we played them too,” fifth-year wing Leigha Brown said postgame. “We came out, got on a run and had a pretty good lead and then they came out after a timeout and just kind of lit it up.”
Not only did both games start the same way, but the Wolverines’ biggest struggles throughout the two losses were mirror images, too.
In fact, it was many of the exact same mistakes from the first meeting — turnovers, free throw shooting and an inability to break the full-court press — that resurfaced on Monday and sunk Michigan again. Committing an identical 27 turnovers and shooting 6-for-13 from the charity stripe through three quarters, the game had an unshakeable feeling of dejá vù.
Heading into the second matchup against the Buckeyes, the Wolverines recognized those defining issues and spent time on them in practice. However, that recognition and effort didn’t translate onto the court.
“Coming in, we tried to talk about just staying calm (against the press),” sophomore guard Jordan Hobbs said. “We didn’t do that today, which was really unfortunate. And we had 27 turnovers, so that was the difference in the game.”
Those turnovers included three 10-second violations, a direct result of Michigan’s inability to consistently break the press and make adjustments. The Wolverines often found themselves trapped in the backcourt, consequently turning the ball over or impeding their ability to set up on offense.
“We work on (playing against the press) everyday all day, that’s pretty much all we worked on for the last two days,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “… There were spurts where we were good at it and then it wore us down in the start of the second half.”
Ohio State capitalized on a handful of the mistakes stemming from the Wolverines’ struggles against the press, scoring 17 points off turnovers by the final whistle.
“Taking care of the basketball for sure is one of those things (to improve), handling pressure and decision making,” Barnes Arico said. “It’s something that we’ve talked about all season long.”
In addition to turnovers and issues beating the press, Michigan’s performance from the free throw line was another defining — and familiar — factor in the loss. Michigan’s 10-for-10 free throw statline in the fourth quarter boosted the team to 70% from the line on the night, but the initial struggles through 30 minutes proved too much to overcome.
“That was a bummer,” Barnes Arico said. “Those were key turning points too, we don’t normally shoot free throws that poorly so that was really a bummer. Those gave us opportunities to chip away and we didn’t make them. Obviously, we’ll get back to practicing them.”
After the first time around, the Wolverines still had room for improvement and plenty of opportunities to learn from their mistakes. This time, however, familiar issues sank Michigan again — and the time to fix them is starting to run out.
As the Wolverines look toward their final two conference games and the rapidly approaching postseason, they’ll have the opportunity to refocus on recurring issues like turnovers, free throw shooting and navigating the press. As Barnes Arico acknowledged, they’ll get right back to practicing those areas.
On Monday, though, as Michigan fell victim to the same mistakes from its first loss to the Buckeyes in its second, practice wasn’t enough.