After dominating Illinois in their best offensive game of the year, the Ohio State (14-10, 4-4) women’s basketball team traveled to Madison looking to put together their first set of back-to-back wins in the Big Ten this season and to get above .500 in conference play. Wisconsin (9-11, 2-6) had struggled for much of the season but had given Michigan State a scare in East Lansing on Thursday in a 71-67 loss.
Neither team got off to a good start offensively. A free throw and then a layup by Darryce Moore gave Ohio State an early lead but then pretty much anything resembling offense disappeared as both teams struggled to make a basket. A three pointer by Wisconsin tied the game three and a half minutes into the game. The Buckeyes take a 5-3 and a 7-5 lead over the next two minutes but then the Badgers got their offense going and scored 10 straight points to take a 15-7 lead eight minutes into the game. A Raven Ferguson layup finally broke the Wisconsin run but Ohio State couldn’t get an closer than six before the Badgers scored 6 unanswered to stretch their lead to 23-11 just past the midpoint of the half. A timeout by Kevin McGuff seemed to get things going for the Buckeyes who quickly got four points to cut the lead back to single digits only to see the Badgers push it back to double digits, 30-17 with five minutes to go in the half. The OSU offense showed some improvement in the final three minutes of the half and managed to trim the Wisconsin lead to 36-28 as the buzzer sounded.
Shooting was the big difference in the first half as Ohio State struggled with their shooting and even with improvement in the closing minutes of the half, the Buckeyes only shot 36% from the field while going 1 of 7 from three point range. Meanwhile Wisconsin was hard to stop at times as the Badgers shot 43% from the field while going 3 of 9 from outside. A major surprise for the Buckeyes was that Ameryst Alston, who leads the team in scoring on the season, was limited to only four points in the first half.
The second half got off to a good start for Ohio State as Darryce Moore hit a layup and then Cait Craft hit a pair of free throws in the first minutes to cut the Wisconsin lead to 36-32. That didn’t last for the Buckeyes though as they again started to struggle with their shots and Wisconsin took advantage to go on a 26 to 8 run to extend their lead to 62-40 with eleven minutes remaining in the game. Ohio State finally started to make some shots but they couldn’t get stops consistently and the two teams traded baskets and Wisconsin lead 74-56 with just over five minutes to go. A Raven Ferguson layup followed by a three pointer by Cait Craft seemed to spark the Buckeyes to an 11 to 0 run that suddenly made this a game, 74-57, with two and a half minutes to go. Things looked to be swinging solidly in OSU’s favor as Wisconsin missed a shot on their next trip down the court and the Buckeyes came away with the rebound. Unfortunately Wisconsin’s Taylor Wurtz had other ideas as she came up with a steal and then drained a three pointer that proved to be the dagger as Wisconsin held on for an 82-71 win.
Ohio State’s shooting didn’t improve in the second half as they finished hitting 39% from the field; things did improve from beyond the arc though as OSU went 4 of 11 from long range after the break. The bright spot for the Buckeye offense, really the only one, was that they did a good job of taking care of the ball, committing only 10 turnovers. Defensively this was a lackluster effort by OSU as Wisconsin shot 48% from the field and seemed to easily find a bucket whenever they needed one. Early in the season Ohio State struggled to defend the three and that was the case again today as the Badgers went 8 of 19 (42%) from outside. The Badgers also dominated the boards, especially in the second half, and easily won the rebounding battle 49-34. The one good aspect for OSU was that they came up with 13 steals but couldn’t really take advantage of that.
Raven Ferguson continues to make a strong case for the Big Ten’s sixth player of the year award as she came off the bench to lead Ohio State with 17 points; Ferguson also grabbed 6 rebounds, dished out 3 steals, and got 5 steals. Darryce Moore scored 15 points and grabbed 8 rebounds while Ameryst Alston added 10 points and 4 assists. After being held scoreless for the first time this season against Illinois, Cait Craft scored 11 points and got 3 steals in this one. Martina Ellerbe just missed a double-double with 8 points and a team high 11 rebounds.
This game looked familiar to many of Ohio State’s losses this season. The Buckeyes struggled with their shooting early and fell into a hole. They managed to put together a rally late in the second half but the hole was too big and the team couldn’t climb out of it. Unfortunately this seems to be a calling card of OSU this season as the team still has to learn how to get off to a good start; even in many of their victories, including Thursday win against Illinois, the Buckeyes struggle for the first 5 minutes or so before things seem to click.
The more disturbing part of this game was that Ohio State really struggled on the defensive end. For pretty much the whole season the one thing that OSU fans could rely on was that the Buckeyes would fight and play tenacious defense but today the team looked like they got down on themselves early and lost some of their aggressiveness with the result being that a team that averages about 65 points a game put up over 80.
Sunday games have not been kind to Ohio State this year as they’ve gone 2-9 (0-4 in the Big Ten) on games played on Sunday; OSU is 12-2 (4-1 Big Ten) in games played on other days of the week. It is possible that Sundays are just bad luck for the Buckeyes but it is more likely that this is an effect of OSU playing pretty shorthanded this season due to not having any incoming freshmen this season and the injury to Kalpana Beach. On a normal week, OSU will have Monday off, practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, a game on Thursday, practice on Friday and Saturday, and then a game on Sunday. By the time Sunday rolls around, the players have had a game or practice on five straight days and thus are more likely to be a bit tired than during the Thursday game; being shorthanded doesn’t help as players have to play more minutes then. This argument gets some support from the fact that OSU’s one win one Big Ten win on a weekend was a Saturday win at Indiana where the Buckeyes hadn’t had a game from the previous Sunday.
The shorthanded nature of the Buckeyes also creates problems when it comes to dealing with fouls. With the new rules and points of emphasis handed down by the NCAA this season, more fouls are being called than in previous season, especially on the inside. This has created issues for Ohio State a few times this season as they don’t have the bodies to rotate in when players get in foul trouble. Thus players are forced to play more despite being in foul trouble and this can result in more timid play to avoid fouling out. This was certainly part of the reason for Ohio State’s lack of aggressiveness on defense in this one, particularly on the inside as Darryce Moore was in foul trouble for most of the second half and thus couldn’t really challenge when Wisconsin would attack inside. Moore wasn’t the only in foul trouble as Raven Ferguson fouled out and her foul troubles were definitely a blow to Ohio State’s offense.
Ohio State will return to action on Thursday when they travel to West Lafayette to take on 19th ranked Purdue who fell to Michigan State in East Lansing today. OSU upset the Boilermakers earlier this season in Columbus and you can bet that they will be looking for revenge in this one while the Buckeyes look to get back to .500 in conference play. Normally I wouldn’t say that Ohio State’s chances were too good but considering how this rollercoaster of a season has gone for OSU, who knows, at least the game isn’t on a Sunday.