The start of the 2013-2014 season represents the dawn of a new era for Ohio State women’s basketball as Kevin McGuff begins his tenure as the head coach of the Buckeyes. After returning OSU to their proper place at the top of the Big Ten, Jim Foster was let go at the end of last season after three years of slipping performance. After two seasons as the head coach of Washington, McGuff returns to Ohio, he had been the head coach at Xavier for six years before taking the job with the Huskies, with the charge to get OSU to take the next step and compete for National Championships.
McGuff has promised an up-tempo, exciting style of play and his first couple months on the job have certainly shown that he understands up-tempo and exciting. He quickly assembled a coaching staff with a diverse variety of backgrounds: Joy Cheek (previously assistant coach at national power Duke), Patrick Klein (assistant coach at OSU under Foster), and Mark Mitchell (a state championship winning high school boys coach from Taft High School in Cincinnati). With no incoming class signed by Foster, McGuff knew that he had to hit the recruiting trail hard and he quickly made a splash, signing five high profile players (Kelsey Mitchell, Chelsea Mitchell, Alexa Hart, Makayla Waterman, and Asia Doss) who will don the scarlet and gray next season as part of perhaps the best recruiting class ever at OSU.
Adjusting to a new coach is always tough and this season the Buckeyes face the additional challenge of having to replace two of their top players and team leaders from last season as Tayler Hill and Amber Stokes graduated. Hill led the team in scoring (representing almost one third of OSU’s points), assists, and steals while Stokes was second on the team in steals and was third in points. Replacing both Hill and Stokes will be a tall task but OSU returns a lot of talent who have all played together before and who should now be much more comfortable with each other’s styles.
As I have previously said, new Ohio State women’s basketball coach Kevin McGuff faces a number of challenges this season. In addition to the standard challenges a new coach faces in having to get to know his new team and build a staff, McGuff has to deal with having a roster that is depleted number wise. Stars Tayler Hill and Amber Stokes graduated along with fellow seniors Emilee Harmon and Brianna Sanders. After missing last season with an injured ACL, talented forward Kalpana Beach reinjured her surgically repaired knee and will miss at least a major portion of this season. These departures and injury, combined with the Buckeyes not signing any recruits for this season, means that OSU only have 11 healthy players on the roster, as opposed to the normal 16. Another challenge became apparent this week when OSU announced one of the toughest non-conference schedules that the program has ever had.
One of the explanations for Ohio State’s struggles in the postseason under Jim Foster was that the Buckeyes took on mostly cupcakes in their non-conference schedule and then beat up on a relatively weak Big Ten, leaving them unprepared for the higher level of opponents that they would run into in the NCAA tournament. This year’s non-conference schedule cannot be subjected to that criticism as the Buckeyes face 7 teams who made the NCAA tournament last year (4 of those in games that will be played outside of Columbus) and 3 more who made the WNIT.
Yesterday’s win over Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten tournament was huge for the Ohio State women’s basketball team’s hopes of making the NCAA tournament. Today’s matchup with top seeded and 7th ranked Penn State was an opportunity for the Buckeyes to improve their NCAA resume and virtually assure themselves a spot in the Big Dance. This was also a chance for OSU to get some revenge after Penn State overcame a halftime deficit to beat the Buckeyes in their only regular season meeting.
The game started out as a tight, back-and-forth defensive battle with both teams having to work hard to get an open look. The opening five minutes saw both team trading baskets with neither able to open up more than a three point lead. Ohio State led 14-13 at the fourteen minute mark but then Penn State scored six straight points to take a 19-14 lead just a minute and a half later and it seemed like the Nittany Lions were poised to take control of the game. The Buckeyes responded though, getting some defensive stops which led to some nice layups as OSU scored 8 straight to take the lead, 22-19, with eight minutes remaining in the half. The teams would go back to trading baskets for the next few minutes and OSU managed to extend its lead to 29-24 with just under five minutes left in the half. The Nittany Lions closed out the half strong though, going on a 9 to 2 run to close the half and to take a 33-31 lead into halftime.
When it comes to Ohio State sports, it is only appropriate that the regular season should end with a game against Michigan; unfortunately this rarely happens for most sports that aren’t football. This year the Big Ten scheduling computers got things right for the women’s basketball team who closed the regular season today by hosting Michigan, their only game against the Wolverines this season. The Buckeyes came into this game on a two game winning streak that had seen them play some of their best basketball of the season and they looked to keep that momentum going heading into this week’s Big Ten tournament.
After Michigan scored on the game’s first possession, the two teams traded baskets until Ohio State scored six straight to take an 11-6 lead just over six minutes into the game. The Wolverines responded with a pair of three points sandwiched around an Ameryst Alston basket to make it a one point game and then tied it at 16 a few minutes later. The Buckeyes roared back with a 10 to 2 run to take a 26-18 lead with just under six minutes remaining in the half. The teams would trade baskets for the rest of the half and Ohio State went into halftime lead 30-25.
Coming off one of their best team games of the year in Monday’s win over Michigan State, the Ohio State women’s basketball team looked to build some momentum with tonight’s game at Illinois. This was the last road game of the year for the Buckeyes, which must come as a relief to a team that has really struggled on the road over the past two seasons. Those road struggles also meant that this game was really important for OSU, not only as it would tell us if the good performance against Sparty was indicative of things to come or was just a mere blip but also because a road win would greatly help the Buckeyes’ case to sneak into the NCAA tournament.
The game started out as a back and forth affair which resulted in the game being tied at 9 seven minutes into the game. The importance of this game for the postseason hopes of both teams was apparently early as both teams played energetic defense but also had moments of sloppy play on offense which led to turnovers. After a good shooting start by Ohio State, their shooting went cold and Illinois took advantage to go on a 7 to 2 run to take a 16-11 lead with eight minutes remaining in the half. The Buckeyes responded though, scoring six straight to take a 17-16 lead just over six minutes on the clock. The lead bounced back and forth for a couple minutes before OSU went on an 8 to 2 run to take a 27-22 lead with two and a half minutes remaining. The two teams would trade baskets the rest of the way and when the buzzer sounded for halftime Ohio State had a 31-26 lead.
The Ohio State women’s basketball team looked to copy the men’s team from yesterday and pull off an upset of Michigan State at home. Following a heart breaking loss to Minnesota last Thursday, the Buckeyes added a new wrinkle to their lineup as sophomore guard Raven Ferguson returned to the starting lineup but in a new position, taking over at the four spot. This change gives OSU a smaller lineup but one that is more athletic and one that is a bit more dangerous from the outside.
After Ohio State’s recent shooting woes, Buckeye fans were relieved and excited as Tayler Hill hit OSU’s first shot of the night with her foot on the three point line. The Buckeyes would hit 4 of their first 6 shots to take an 8-7 lead at the first media timeout. At that point OSU’s good offensive start quickly evaporated as the Buckeye missed five straight shots and Michigan State forced several turnovers. Fortunately MSU also struggled with its shooting during this stretch and only managed to take an 11-8 lead with just over fourteen minutes remaining in the first half. After three minutes of neither team being able to score, Ashley Adams finally hit a two point jumper which the Spartans immediately answered. The Adams basket seemed to re-ignite the Buckeye offense as Raven Ferguson hit a three to tie the game on the next trip down the floor and Ohio State went on an 18 to 5 run to take a 28-15 lead with just under five minutes on the clock. MSU wasn’t going to go away though as they scored six straight points and closed the half on an 8 to 2 run to cut the Ohio State lead to 30-23 at halftime.
After having the weekend off, Ohio State came into tonight’s game against Minnesota looking to rebound from their disastrous offensive performance in the second half of last Thursday’s loss to Nebraska. With a 14-11 record coming into this game and only four games remaining in the regular season, the sense of urgency for the Buckeyes was off the charts as they needed to win out in order to have any hope of making the NCAA tournament as an at-large selection.
Ohio State’s recent shooting woes reared their ugly head at the start of tonight’s game as the Buckeyes struggled to make any shot. Fortunately for OSU, a series of turnovers and fouls by Minnesota prevented the Golden Gophers from taking full advantage and the game was tied at 8 seven minutes into the first half. At this point Minnesota started to clean up its sloppy play, taking care of the ball and cutting down on turnovers which fueled a 11 to 2 to give the Gophers a 19-10 lead with just under eight minutes remaining in the half. The Buckeyes finally managed to stop the skid, forcing some turnovers and drawing a few fouls to help them slowly cut into the deficit and only trail 24-20 with just over a minute remaining in the half. OSU would miss a couple scoring opportunities in the final minute and the Gophers would make the final basket of the half to lead 26-20 at the break.
Ohio State entered tonight’s game riding a three game winning streak, their longest this season since Big Ten play started. The Buckeyes knew that keeping that streak going wasn’t going to be easy as they had to face Nebraska in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers came into tonight’s game in second place in the Big Ten and on a three game winning streak against the Buckeyes, all three wins being fairly comfortable ones.
Nebraska got out to an early lead; hitting three of their first four shots to take a 6-0 lead three minutes into the game. Ohio State responded though with a seven point run to go up 7-6 just a bit more than three minutes later. At this point an intense back-and-forth battle started with the two teams trading baskets and the lead for the next eleven minutes with neither team able to take more than a two point lead. That narrow margin was broken when the Cornhuskers scored 5 straight to take a 23-19 lead with a minute left in the half. The Buckeyes would briefly narrow that lead back to a single basket but then Nebraska hit a pair of free throws in the closing seconds to give themselves a 25-21 lead going into intermission.