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Game Notes: No. 4 Ohio State women’s basketball’s 33-point swing vs. No. 18 Louisville

Buckeyes come away from their first ranked away game with a 19-point win

Syndication: The Courier-Journal Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Ohio State Buckeyes women’s basketball team entered halftime of Wednesday’s game at the University of Louisville down eight points. It wasn’t a bad deficit considering they were down 14 halfway through the second quarter. In the final 20 minutes, the Buckeyes surged ahead, turning another potential defeat into a confident 96-77 victory.

Game Notes discusses coach Kevin McGuff’s decision that helped turn it around, a big night by a guard and playing through illness.

Rikki Harris’ Cold Game

On June 11, 1997, men’s basketball great, and Chicago Bull, Michael Jordan played in “The Flu Game,” where the NBA superstar scored 38 points in game five of the NBA Finals versus the Utah Jazz. Wednesday’s game, while it wasn’t a playoff night, featured a similar performance under similar stress.

“I don’t feel good,” said Harris after the game. “I have a cold and they just kept me going. I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t expecting to play that much.”

Harris played 35 minutes off the bench, more minutes than three starting teammates. In a game that began with the Cardinals out-rebounding the Buckeyes 10-5, Harris entered the game and didn’t look back.

Even though Harris said she couldn’t breathe throughout the game, she grabbed 10 rebounds and six assists, on top of five points. It was Harris’ best statistical performance of the year after shifting from a 2021-22 starter to a role player off the bench.

It was a performance worthy of the Buckeyes’ dub chain and applause from teammate Jacy Sheldon who named her as the reason Ohio State won. Coach McGuff had nothing but admiration for the guard too.

“She’s the heart and soul of our team in many ways, just from a competitive character standpoint,” said McGuff. “She got tough rebound after tough rebound tonight, dove on the floor for loose balls. Just a great performance and we really really needed it.”

Leaning on Experience

Coach McGuff made many changes throughout the game to try and combat a talented Louisville side, but the best came in his third-quarter personnel decision.

The Cardinals shot their eight-point halftime lead to 13, scoring the first two baskets of the second half. From there though, a four-guard set of Sheldon, Harris, Madison Greene, and Taylor Mikesell (with Taylor Thierry as forward), took over the game.

McGuff went that route to get the most experience on the court. Citing too many first-half turnovers, the coach added Greene and Harris, both redshirt juniors, to the mix and it paid dividends.

After being down in the turnover margin for the first half, the adjustment put Ohio State up at the end of the 40 minutes, with 24 forced turnovers to 20 given away. The four also scored 18 of the Buckeyes' 28 in the quarter, with Mikesell and Greene leading the way.

While freshman forward Cotie McMahon started, McGuff benched the player early in favor of the older set of players, but it’s not indicative of his views on McMahon as a player.

“She’s going to be a spectacular player for us, and everyone’s seen how good she is already,” said McGuff. “But in this particular game, I wanted to lean on our experience.”

Jacy Sheldon Feels Great

A toss-up going into the Wednesday top-25 matchup was Sheldon. The guard missed the previous two Buckeye wins, due to a lower leg injury. Ohio State posted pre-game photos of Sheldon without the boot on her foot and a start followed.

Sheldon said she felt great in the game, playing to a 22-point night with three assists, three rebounds, and two steals in 39 minutes.

Syndication: The Courier-Journal
Jacy Sheldon (right) also grabbed a block in the final minutes of the game on guard Hailey Van Lith (left)
Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

The highlight of the game came in the fourth quarter. With a seven-point Buckeyes lead, Sheldon received a pass on the wing, with All-American-caliber guard Hailey Van Lith defending. Sheldon did a crossover to fake a run to the paint and Van Lith bit and stumbled back a few steps. That gave the guard the room to hit the three and extend the lead to double-digits for the first time, with it never going under 10 points the rest of the night.

Silencing the Yum!

The KFC Yum! Center is Louisville’s home, and the Cardinals boast loud and rowdy fans, of all ages. Every shot erupted the arena and every foul against them elicited immediate constructive criticism to the officials.

That environment appeared to rattle the Buckeyes early, taking over a quarter before finding their footing for more consistent periods of time. Sheldon and the Buckeyes had thoughts on playing in an arena like in Wednesday’s game.

“That’s the best part,” said Sheldon. “Any competitor loves that, their intensity. They had a great crowd and they played off of it, but I think we did too.”

“We don’t mind a loud crowd,” added Harris. “It gets us going.”

Ohio State’s win stopped a Louisville 48-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents. Also, the Buckeyes forced an early exit for most, with the arena beginning to file out within a few minutes of the fourth quarter.

Forwards Play Big

Playing forward all night were Thierry and Rebeka Mikulášiková. They started together but ended up alternating in the five-position for the second half when Ohio State clawed back to lead in the game.

Even though Thierry fouled out, her performance was another sign of things to come for the Buckeyes sophomore. In the second quarter, Thierry kept Ohio State in the game with three rebounds, two on offense. Those led to second-chance buckets for the Scarlet & Gray. While Thierry didn’t attack the basket as often on Wednesday, scoring seven points overall, the couple of times she did result in positive points and drew fouls from the home Cardinals.

Mikulášiková had a game herself. The forward had 21 points and five rebounds on the night. Most of those points came from movement inside the paint. The footwork near the basket was great for the Slovakian. Mikulášiková spun around defenders, hitting layups, and got to the line twice for her efforts. The forward only took one three, missing the attempt, making the point total more impressive as Mikulášiková’s excellent season continues.

Taylor Mikesell’s Night

Ohio State made eight threes on Wednesday, and half of those came from Mikesell. The Massillon, Ohio guard scored her season high with 26 points, plus two assists and two rebounds.

The Buckeyes haven’t needed Mikesell to take over games like she did in 2021-22, but Wednesday she answered the call to get Ohio State back into the game and surge ahead. In Ohio State’s first lead of the game, Mikesell was integral.

Mikesell headed to the free throw line for three shots, with Ohio State down two. The First Team All-B1G guard missed the third shot, and a second-chance layup, but kept up with the play and made the third-chance attempt. Mikesell fought like that all night, playing every minute of the game.