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Game Preview: No. 17 Ohio State women’s basketball at Michigan

The Buckeyes and Wolverines renew The Rivalry, with the scarlet and gray looking for a fourth straight win

Ohio State v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

The festive season is just about over, and before the book on 2023 is officially over, the Ohio State women’s basketball team has one game left. It’s a fun one too. Saturday, the Buckeyes travel three hours north to Ann Arbor, Michigan to face the Michigan Wolverines for the first of 17 straight Big Ten games.

It’s been a series dominated by the scarlet and gray, but over the past three seasons, Michigan’s held its own. Will that trend continue with a national television audience looking on?


Preview

With college football Saturdays mostly over, with only playoffs and Pop-Tart debris remaining, the college basketball season can take center stage; on Saturday are the Buckeyes and the Wolverines. Each team has had spells of dominance over the previous two seasons, but teams in two different stages entering Saturday.

For Ohio State, two defeats overshadow an early start to the season that’s seen the team suffer its fair share of hiccups. Granted, early in the season isn't when teams are expected to hit their peak, but both losses came against younger teams featuring stars and seemingly endless ceilings.

The Buckeyes’ losses to the USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins showed an Ohio State squad that’s still suffering similarly to last season. In other words, going down big and having to scrap back into contests. Except both times the scarlet and gray fell short, even though erasing a 19-point and almost clearing a 22-point deficit against the No. 6 USC Trojans and No. 2 UCLA Bruins, respectively, is still an accomplishment. What they aren’t though are victories.

Other non-ranked opponents have all fallen by the wayside when going up against head coach Kevin McGuff’s side. The lone win against a ranked team came against the then No. 25 Penn State Nittany Lions, whom Ohio State needed overtime to beat in the first conference game of the season.

While there have been troubles, Michigan has had its fair share too. The Wolverines brought in three transfers following an offseason of massive changeover. Head coach Kim Barnes Arico lost forward Emily Kiser and guard Leigha Brown to ending eligibility and guard Maddie Nolan. The group of three were all in the top four for Michigan in the scoring department, with Brown leading in both points (17.5) and assists (5.8). Kiser wasn’t far behind with 15.9 points and a team-leading 7.1 rebounds per game.

In response, the Wolverines haven’t faired well against top teams and even slipped against a few mid majors. Losses to the Florida Gators and Ole Miss can be justified with the “power five” label, but the Wolverines also scored a season low but that doesn’t work against the Toledo Rockets.

For the second season in a row, the Wolverines fell to the Mid-American Conference team, this time only scoring 46 points in a 20-point defeat on Dec. 6. It’s a loss indicative of a team in flux.

Joining the maize and blue this offseason are two guards who’ve moved into the starting five for Barnes Arico. The first is former Bowling Green guard Elisa Brett. The two-time All-MAC First Team and MAC All-Defensive team guard started the last four games for the Wolverines, featuring games with 15 and 27 points, albeit against lower-level competition.

Joining Brett in the transfer-turned-starter role is former Missouri Tiger Lauren Hansen. From the start of the season, Barnes Rico has trusted Hansen with a starting position; one of only three players to start all 13 games for the Wolverines. Hansen’s responded with a career season with assists (2.5) and close to a career-high in points (11.2) per game.

However, the star of the show is guard Laila Phelia. The third-year Wolverine is the most dangerous player on the court for Michigan. There isn’t a lot in the assists department for Phelia, but even when the Wolverines lose it's not because of a lack of effort on the junior’s part.

Against Ohio State though, Phelia hasn’t had the same kind of results. Only having played the Buckeyes three times, all last season, Phelia’s averaged 9.3 points against the Buckeyes but that’s heavily weighted by a 17-point performance in the Big Ten Tournament. That wasn’t against a healthy Jacy Sheldon or Celeste Taylor though.

The Buckeyes thrive when they play lockdown defense on guards and do their best to limit inside the paint. Unfortunately for Ohio State, one area in which Michigan excels is limiting opponent rebounds. The Wolverines don’t allow players to get into positions to grab those rebounds and lead the Big Ten allowing 30.1 rebounds per game, compared to the Buckeyes who sit in 10th place, allowing five more per game.

Saturday will need a strong performance on the boards by not only guard Taylor Thierry and forward Cotie McMahon but also the Sheldon-and-Taylor guard duo. Michigan doesn’t play a fast-paced game, which should give the Buckeyes time to get into good half-court sets and allow Ohio State to find space.

This December, Taylor’s done well in that department, with two games hitting at least 10 rebounds and averaging 6.2 in six games. Adding that energetic play in the paint to a Thierry or McMahon could be enough to neutralize the Wolverines’ strength.

As cliché as it sounds, rivalries bring more out of teams, so seeing an extra motivated Michigan side welcoming the Buckeyes into the Crisler Center could give the scarlet and gray a run for its money.


Projected Lineups

Ohio State

G- Jacy Sheldon
G- Celeste Taylor
G- Taylor Thierry
F- Cotie McMahon
F- Rebeka Mikulášiková

Lineup Notes

  • Guard Jacy Sheldon enters Saturday on two straight 30-point games, scoring 30 against the UCLA Bruins and 31 against Belmont.
  • Sheldon is also approaching her 100th start as a Buckeye, with Saturday likely being the 97th for the graduate senior.
  • Guard Celeste Taylor hasn’t faced the Wolverines in her four-year NCAA career.

Michigan

G- Laila Phelia
G- Elissa Brett
G- Lauren Hansen
G- Jordan Hobbs
F- Chyra Evans

Lineup Notes

  • Michigan’s played around with its lineup a few times, with the projected group above the third different group to start the season. The group is 4-1 with a lone defeat to an up-and-coming Florida Gators side in the loss column.
  • The loss of center Emily Kiser and guard Leigha Brown impacted Phelia’s output, dropping it down by 2.2 points per game, but still leading the Maize and Blue with 14.3 points per game.
  • In two seasons with Michigan, guard Jordan Hobbs started nine games in 49 appearances, averaging 3.4 points, 1.3 rebounds and .5 assists. Starting every game this season, so far, Hobbs is having a career season with 9.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game.

Prediction

This will be another game where the experience of Ohio State will overwhelm a team trying to adjust a new lineup. Taylor will have a strong defensive game against the Wolverines, overwhelming Michigan and pushing the maize and blue to its highest turnover total this season.

Offensively, Thierry and McMahon will shine with their creativity, playing off each other. The scoreline will be close but still a solid performance by the Ohio State Buckeyes coming out of the holiday break.


How to Watch

Date: Saturday, Dec. 30, 2023
Time: 12 noon ET
Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan
TV: FOX
Stream: Fox Sports App


LGHL Prediction: 78-70 Ohio State Buckeyes


Monumental Recruiting Moment

Saturday’s game between Ohio State and Michigan has the added excitement of a huge recruiting win that coach McGuff earned on Friday. The No. 3 overall player, and No. 1 point guard, in the 2024 freshman class committed to the Buckeyes.

Guard Jaloni Cambridge, younger sister of Ohio State sophomore guard Kennedy Cambridge, had an Instagram live event Friday where she took off shirts of all the finalist teams competing with the Buckeyes for the highly regarded high school star. In the end though, it was the family of Cambridge all revealing Ohio State shirts, even the soon-to-be Buckeyes’ dog joined the fun.

It’s quite the present for a program that will lose at least two graduate senior guards in Sheldon and Taylor at the end of the season.