It’s been an exciting week for the Ohio State women’s basketball team. Guard Jacy Sheldon returned from an injury, fellow guard Rikki Harris played her best game of the season and Ohio State traveled to Louisville and overcame a 14-point deficit to beat the No. 18 Louisville Cardinals 97-77. To ice the cake, Big Ten play begins against a team that’s at the start of a rebuild in the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
It has the makings of another double-digit Ohio State win, but conference play has a way of motivating teams.
Ohio State and Rutgers are on two vastly different trajectories to their season. The Buckeyes sit comfortably at 7-0, while the Scarlet Knights have a tough 4-5 record. Rutgers is a team going under extreme renovations.
It starts within the coaching staff. Legendary head coach C. Vivian Stringer, who’s being honored at Sunday’s game, led Rutgers since 1995 before retiring in March of this season. Now at the helm is former Big Ten championship-winning coach Coquese Washington.
Washington, formerly at the helm of the Penn State Nittany Lions for three conference regular season titles between 2007-2019, rejoined the head coaching ranks after being an assistant since 2019. The former Notre Dame graduate and WNBA player inherited a team with only three returners, and a lot of work to do in rebuilding the program.
An interesting thing to note about the Scarlet Knights roster is its size. Not talking about heights and wing-spans. No, the number of players. Rutgers touts an eight-player roster. Of those eight, two are freshman and three transferred into the program this season. That means there’s a lot of chemistry to build.
All three returners began the season starting all nine games. So far, the Scarlet Knights sit last in the conference in points per game (63.2), second to last in points allowed (70.8) and a statistic that’ll be most concerning for Rutgers on Sunday: turnovers.
Ohio State’s 29 average forced turnovers per game is No. 1 in the entire country. For Rutgers, with its team make-up and adjusting to the first year of a new coach, their 20.9 turnovers given up per game has the potential to add a couple points in the Buckeyes’ favor.
Even so, there’s talent on the Rutgers roster, especially at guard. Senior Awa Sidibe, a former NJCAA athlete, and freshman Kaylene Smikle are the two to watch offensively. Smikle joined Rutgers after winning Pennsylvania’s Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year award in 2021-22, and so far she hasn’t started, but she’s produced.
Smikle leads the Knights with 13.3 points per game, all off the bench. For Sidibe, she’s a threat in scoring and grabbing boards. Sidibe’s started the season scoring 10.8 points and securing 6.3 rebounds per game.
- Forward Cotie McMahon’s six minutes on Wednesday is the lowest of her young freshman NCAA career for a single game.
- Five players on the Buckeyes average double figures in points per game.
- Forward Rebeka Mikulášiková, who won two Big Ten Honor Rolls this season, leads the Buckeyes with 18.1 points per game.
- Kassondra Brown began the year on the bench, but’s started the last three games for Rutgers.
- Antonia Bates is Rutgers other freshman guard who isn’t as prolific of a scorer as Smikle, but leads the team with 13 blocks.
On paper, this looks like a game that the Buckeyes can control from the jump. Ohio State has the experience, and both times they faced teams with heavy transfers and new looks — Tennessee and Louisville — the Buckeyes came out on top.
Rutgers won’t have an answer for the Scarlet & Gray’s intense press on defense. The team who forces the most turnovers against the side who gives up the most is a recipe the Buckeye defense should enjoy.
The only way that the Buckeyes fall is if their shooting goes cold. So far this season though, Ohio State hasn’t let the opponent get in the way of the motivation to win and win big.
Forward Cotie McMahon, who sat most of the game against Louisville with head coach Kevin McGuff wanting experience on the court, could see this game as an example of what she can bring to the table. Playing only six minutes against the ranked Cardinals side is a good motivator in that department.
How to Watch
Date: Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022
Time: 12:00 p.m. ET
Where: Jersey Mikes Arena - Piscataway, New Jersey
Television: B1G Network
Stream: FOX Sports with a B1G Network subscription
LGHL Prediction: 98-63 Ohio State Buckeyes
Beats for the Unbeaten
The Buckeyes had an added bonus following their win against Louisville. Ohio’s own NBA superstar LeBron James rewarded the entire women’s basketball team this week.
James gave everyone a pair XX James shoes and scarlet and gray custome Beats by Dre headphones, with a shiny Burger King-esque crown for good measure. The future Hall of Famer also gave the team a note:
“The season is here, so are the expectations. But you put in the work. Time to play the game and change it forever. Let’s make some history. O-H!!!!”
It’s safe to say the team was excited.