Wednesday, the Ohio State Buckeyes women’s basketball returns to conference play. On the schedule are the Northwestern Wildcats (6-5). In the first of two matchups of the season, the Buckeyes take on a Wildcats team without three-time B1G Defensive Player of the Year Veronica Burton, who left for the Dallas Wings of the WNBA.
For the Scarlet & Gray, they have their own issues to contend with, including playing with their third different starting point guard of the season and trying not to look ahead to New Year’s Eve.
Before the Christmas holiday weekend, the Ohio State Buckeyes had an up and down two days at the San Diego Invitational. Up because they beat a tough USF Bulls team in overtime and handled the No. 16 Oregon Ducks with relative ease. The down? Losing point guard Madison Greene to an apparent knee injury.
After sustaining the injury in the fourth quarter of the Dec. 20 win against USF, Greene didn't play the next day. Instead, veteran redshirt junior Rikki Harris came in and delivered. Literally.
Harris had eight assists in the first half, leading to a 54-37 first half lead. That production playing point guard for the first time in the starting lineup since high school. The guard from Indianapolis, Indiana isn’t a stranger to stepping into spots opened through injury though.
Last season, Harris jumped into the starting five after starting point guard Kateri Poole sustained an injury in Jan. 2022 that had head coach Kevin McGuff slide guard Jacy Sheldon into the facilitator role. Harris started through the end of the season.
This season, Harris took more of a “veteran off the bench” role, like forward Tanaya Beacham last season. Within 24 hours though, she slid into a role vacated by Greene and Sheldon, who’s nursing a lower leg injury.
Wednesday’s game against the Wildcats gives Harris a chance to get more practice under her belt at the position.
Missing guards Sheldon and Greene is tough. No team wants to go down their two starting point guards, but another gap it creates is in on-court experience. This season, when the Buckeyes needed a stable presence, it was Harris playing alongside either Greene or Sheldon who calmed the team down.
Now, that same caliber of veteran presence is gone — until Sheldon returns, putting Harris back as a sixth player. Fortunately for the Scarlet & Gray, they might not need it on Wednesday.
Northwestern is not a bad team, but this season they’ve struggled against top opponents. The Wildcats faced the Oregon Ducks on Nov. 7, tipping off the season, and lost 100-57. Against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish it was only slightly better, losing 92-58.
The Wildcats aren’t necessarily a bad team, but they’re a team undergoing changes. Burton’s absence is the largest, but stepping in on defensive duty is forward Caileigh Walsh. The 6-foot-3 sophomore’s come on strong this year, after working her way into the starting lineup last season.
Walsh leads the Wildcats with 13.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. She also has 17 blocks in 11 starts, good for fourth in the conference with a 1.5 blocks per game average.
At the San Diego Invitational, Ohio State had trouble against the bigs from USF and Oregon, with Bulls center Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu scoring 34 points and adding 17 rebounds. Although the Scarlet & Gray held Oregon’s Phillipina Kyei to no points scored the next night, the 6-foot-8 Canadian still grabbed 10 rebounds, making presence in the paint something to watch for Ohio State.
Also, even though those score lines from early in the season look bad, the team of eight underclassmen are starting to gel. Even though they’ve lost to the likes of the Michigan Wolverines and Duke Blue Devils, they’ve stayed in games longer and kept games closer.
- Forward Cotie McMahon’s moved her points per game average up to 11.5 over the past three weeks, highlighted by her 30-point performance against USF.
- Forward Taylor Thierry still leads the NCAA with a field goal percentage of 73% and has raised her freshman 2.9 ppg average up to 12.6 ppg this year.
- Five different Buckeyes have led the scoring for Ohio State so far this season.
- Point guard Kaylah Rainey sits 12th in the conference in assists.
- Northwestern is last in the B1G in threes made this season, hitting only 51 in 11 games.
- The Wildcats average the third most turnovers in the Big Ten, allowing 18.1 per game.
The Buckeyes and the Wildcats shouldn’t be a game Ohio State loses, but with Michigan looming three days later, it wouldn’t be a shock to see a slow first half. Ohio State’s entered games against teams they are heavily favored to beat with less energy than coach McGuff’s liked. Northwestern has that kind of performance written all over it.
Even so, the scoring and defense is there to make it a tough 40 minutes for the Wildcats.
How to Watch
Date: Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022
Time: 9:00 p.m. ET
Where: Welsh-Ryan Arena - Evanston, Illinois
Television: Big Ten Network
Stream: FOX Sports with Big Ten Network subscription
LGHL Prediction: 88-64 Ohio State Buckeyes
Cotie McMahon Goes Back-to-Back-to-Back
The Ohio State Buckeyes needed a hero against USF in the San Diego Invitational, and got it with freshman Cotie McMahon. McMahon scored a career-high 30 points against the Bulls. Beyond that, McMahon’s been the Buckeyes’ catalyst to start games with high energy and playing a key role in the Scarlet & Gray’s defensive press.
After an inconsistent start to the season, McMahon’s coming into her own quickly in her first collegiate season.