A third Associated Press Top 25 team will venture to Columbus to challenge the Ohio State women’s basketball team at home.
It will not be just another ranked opponent, though — it will be No. 24 Michigan (11-3, 2-1 Big Ten), which will take on the Buckeyes (8-6, 1-2) at the Schottenstein Center Thursday night.
“This is as good as the Big Ten has been since I have been here, for sure,” Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff said. “It is deep –– everybody is good –– but we just have to keep trying to find a way, though, because it is not going to get any easier.”
Ohio State has alternated wins and losses over its past five games, with its most recent result a 72-62 defeat to No. 17 Maryland.
“We were playing a great team on the road in Maryland, and we played a really good first half,” McGuff said. “We didn’t play so well in the second. We had a chance but didn’t close it out, so we have to learn from that and move on.”
Michigan sophomore forward Naz Hillmon provides the biggest threat to the Buckeye defense, entering as the No. 7 scorer in the Big Ten at 15.5 points per game.
“She can score. She is a great rebounder. They really play hard and execute on offense, so it will be another challenge for us,” McGuff said.
The Buckeyes will likely look to sophomore forward Dorka Juhasz to answer Hillmon’s strong offensive prowess. Juhasz leads the Buckeyes in scoring with 12.8 points per game.
Freshman guard Jacy Sheldon is also opening eyes, especially after her 12-point showing against Maryland.
“I think I got in my groove a little bit, so I think that boosted my confidence,” Sheldon said. “Our practices have pointed out everything we need to take care of. We had a lot of stuff to learn from that game as a whole, so I think we are excited to move on.”
The Buckeyes cannot focus all of their attention on Hillmon and stopping the Michigan offense, however. The Wolverines are second in the Big Ten in rebounding margin, while Ohio State checks in at No. 11.
“You have to rebound, even offensive rebound, to get more points,” sophomore forward Aaliyah Patty said. “Turnovers are really important. We have been working on making the extra passes, reading the defense more.”
The Buckeyes have shown flashes this season as they have hung in games against then-No. 3 Connecticut, No. 1 Stanford and No. 17 Maryland. Ohio State has also proved it can outlast highly ranked teams and tough opponents, with wins over then-No. 2 Louisville and No. 24 Minnesota.
The Buckeyes seek to add No. 24 Michigan to the list of teams they can outlast.
“Everyone loves playing The Team Up North. We just have to have energy from the beginning,” Patty said. “Everyone is going to come out, regardless of who you are. If you want to win, you have to play for the full 40 minutes.”
The game tips off at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Schottenstein Center.