Kind of a weird game for Ohio State to open the Big Ten tournament, but then that should probably not come as a surprise given the opponent.
Michigan’s women’s basketball team, kind of like the men’s team, plays a bit of an odd style and it showed in a 57-48 Buckeye victory. The Wolverines under head coach Kevin Borseth want to grind out long possessions and play a European style that sets up a lot of outside shots for the post players. This has given the Buckeyes a lot of problems the past couple of years, as evidenced by the three-game winning streak Michigan brought into the game.
Again they seemed to have the Buckeyes discombobulated defensively from time to time, but there was a consensus in the post-game interview room that they did not do enough to take advantage.
Michigan shot 34.5 percent from the field but missed a lot of open shots inside and out. They took 25 threes and made only seven.
That offset a good defensive effort that tried to replicate what had worked for them in a 73-62 win in Ann Arbor in January. They concentrated on trapping star Ohio State guards Samantha Prahalis and Tayler Hill while playing off of Amber Stokes, the third guard, and taking their chances with power forward Kalpana Beach and center Ashley Adams.
The strategy worked pretty well, especially in the first half as Beach took as many shots (seven) as Prahalis and made only two. Stokes went 1 for 4 from the floor while Adams was 2 for 4 but committed three turnovers as she never seemed quite sure where the defenders were going to be while surveying the offense.
That Prahalis and Hill, one of the most dangerous guard combinations in the country, tried to share the wealth in the first half was not all Michigan’s doing. Ohio State head coach Jim Foster also wanted to see them get a variety of teammates involved, and he said after the game he was happy they were able to do it. However, I’m not sure that confluence of strategies from the separate huddles didn’t make things more difficult than they had to be for the Buckeyes to advance.
Michigan controlled the tempo of the game for maybe 35 minutes, but they paid dearly for the part they let it slip. Ohio State scored the first 11 points of the second half to take a 16-point lead. Michigan managed to get stabilized – and started hitting shots for a change – but never could get closer than five. The damage was done, and it came via more open-court play than the Buckeyes were able to force in the first half. Hill and Prahalis had the game in their hands at that point, and it was easy to see why that is a good thing for Ohio State.
Taking advantage of four early misses by the Wolverines, the Buckeyes struck back quickly with a pair of Hill fastbreak layups, a put-back by Beach and a Hill three that came out of the halfcourt offense. They also got a jumper from Beach, who seemed to have more room to operate once the game turned into more of a scramble.
Even after the tempo returned to a pace more Michigan’s liking, the Buckeyes seemed more comfortable on offense. They slowed things down themselves while protecting the lead, feeling comfortable letting the clock run down before attacking, and it worked well enough to hang on.
They also got the defense going late as the athletic Beach blocked a shot and Stokes and Hill both came up with steals in the final minutes.
Hill finished with 19 points, all but three of which came in the second half. Prahalis had 11 points and five turnovers but turned the ball over seven times. She was 4 for 15 from the field while Hill went 7 for 12. The star duo fell about 10 points shy of what it usually averages total, but Beach picked them up with 12 points while Raven Ferguson had a sneaky five off the bench.
The post players have been something of a work in progress all season, and Beach had her ups and downs while Adams seemed to struggle the farther she was pulled away from the basket. The sophomore center looked lost on more than one occasion on both ends of the floor, but classmate Darryce Moore provided some quality minutes off the bench in relief of her. Adams is a gifted passer with a good touch from 15 feet and in, but she has drifted in and out of games and this was not one of her better ones. The Buckeyes will need more from her in the future if they want to win many more postseason games.
Beach was an efficient 3 for 4 from the field in the second half, but can the freshman sustain that kind of consistency for a full game let alone multiple games? That remains to be seen. She’s brought a lot to the lineup, but she’s still going through some growing pains.
In the first half, I felt like Prahalis and Hill were trying too hard to get their teammates involved. They are the two best players and their teammates didn’t have much luck in taking advantage of the opportunities they had.
In the long run, they will need help to take the Buckeyes deep into the NCAA tournament, but there is something to be said for dancing with those who brought you. It will be interesting to see how they maintain that balance the rest of this most critical month.