The Michigan women’s basketball team is heading to Columbus this weekend to face one of its fiercest competitors yet — Ohio State.
The Buckeyes (3-0 Big Ten, 13-4 overall) are ranked 11th in the Associated Press poll and 13th in the Coaches Poll, while the Wolverines (2-0 Big Ten, 13-3 overall) have failed to crack the top 25 in either. Yet, the two teams have nearly identical records and Michigan sits six spots ahead of Ohio State in the NCAA RPI rankings. The Buckeyes are favored, but the Wolverines have an opportunity to prove otherwise.
“Ohio State is led by a young lady named Kelsey Mitchell,” said coach Kim Barnes Arico on WTKA radio. “She’s an All-American. She’s arguably the best player in the country. She’s a guard averaging about 26 points a game.”
While the Wolverines don’t quite have a scoring equivalent of Mitchell, they do boast one of the deepest teams in the country. Seasoned junior guard and leading scorer Katelynn Flaherty averages 17.9 points per game, but it’s freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick who bolsters the depth.
Gondrezick broke into the Wolverines’ starting lineup against Rutgers on Dec. 28 — a decision made based on her ability to score from the outside. Her uncanny ability to hit 3-pointers — she is shooting 46.1 percent on the year — makes her tough to defend against.
“Earlier in the season, or especially last year, we felt if Katelynn had an off night we weren’t able to be really successful,” Barnes Arico said. “Now, Katelynn has drawn so much attention to herself. She’s usually guarded by the other team’s best player, and sometimes two people are running at her, and she faces double teams at times and faceguarding at times.
“It’s great to have other options and people that can take that pressure off of her, and Kysre has definitely provided that.”
Gondrezick put up big points in Michigan’s first two games of conference play, and shows no sign of slowing down. She had 18 points and seven rebounds against Rutgers and another 16 points, including three 3-pointers, in the Wolverines’ latest matchup against Wisconsin.
Sophomore forward Hallie Thome is the third offensive threat that the Buckeyes will need to watch out for. Coming off of her record-breaking 37-point performance against the Badgers, in which she tied for second highest points per game in Michigan history, Thome has shown that she can be extremely dangerous down low.
“I watched the film with my own children because they wanted to see,” Barnes Arico said. “And they were like, ‘Mommy it’s almost like a layup drill for Hallie.’ Every time down the floor, it felt like she was scoring the basketball.”
If Thome, Flaherty and Gondrezick all perform at their peak, Ohio State will have to decide which Wolverine it needs to defend the most: the dangerous outside duo of Gondrezick and Flaherty or Thome’s long reach in the paint.
But, the Wolverines will need to return to their high-scoring ways from the start of the season if they want to keep up with the Buckeyes. Not only has Ohio State matched Michigan’s record of three games in triple digits this season, but the Buckeyes have scored fewer than 80 points in a game just twice. The Wolverines have played nine games in which they haven’t cracked that magic number.
With a serious defensive effort, Michigan is certainly capable of winning its third Big Ten game in a row. The Wolverines have lost to both No. 10 Florida State and No. 9 UCLA, but both games were close. Michigan played each team after long flights to the Virgin Islands and California, putting the Wolverines way out of their comfort zones. A three-hour bus ride to Columbus, without a time change, could make conditions more favorable for Michigan.
The Wolverines have a solid chance at beating Ohio State, and their excitement shows.
“Our games with them the past few years have really been high-energy, high offense, fun to watch,” Barnes Arico said. “I think the rivalries between (us and) Ohio State and Michigan State are incredible. I don’t think anywhere in college athletics you have those rivalries like we do here at Michigan.”