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.
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.