On Friday night, the Ohio State Buckeyes take on the University of Texas Longhorns in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament Sweet Sixteen; the Big Ten regular-season co-champions against the Big 12 Tournament champions. Ohio State is in their first Sweet Sixteen since 2017, and Texas is hoping to reach the Elite Eight for the second straight tournament.
Before the first jump, prepare yourself for the game with three storylines to watch. On paper it looks like a defense vs. offense matchup, but it goes much deeper.
The Buckeyes are known for a 2-2-1 press, where a pair of players rush opponents, try to anticipate passes and force turnovers. Texas has a press of their own but it’s a whole different ballgame. Head coach Vic Schaefer’s Longhorns play a full-court one-on-one press.
In other words, they don’t give opposing teams time to set up their offense or take their time getting to the offensive half of the court. That defense causes nightmares.
“The scary part about that is they’re as good as anyone in the country at taking live-ball turnovers and turning them into layups,” said head coach Kevin McGuff.
For the Scarlet and Gray to be successful, they’ll need to protect the ball. Against LSU in the second round, the Tigers implemented a press that didn’t allow the Buckeyes to move, at least at first. After a few turnovers, and LSU cutting the Buckeyes lead to under 20, Ohio State adjusted and got their way into their offensive attack.
That kind of work will need to start at tipoff. While Texas likely won’t be sending two or three players towards the Buckeye with possession, they also won’t let OSU do whatever they want in bringing the ball up and setting up their offense. Look for screens high up the court to break players away, and cause mismatches.
Another Guard Battle
On Monday, it was LSU graduate senior Khayla Pointer that Jacy Sheldon and the Buckeyes had to hold down. In a word, they didn’t. Pointer scored 32 points, good for half of LSU’s 64 points on the night. Friday, they have a player at the opposite end of her college career in outstanding freshman Rori Harmon.
Harmon is the Big 12 Freshman of the Year and averages 11.4 points and 5.0 assists per game. Also, those assists come with few turnovers, listed third in assist to turnover ratio averaging 2.3 assists for every giveaway. Harmon is also key in turning takeaways into points.
“She presents a lot of challenges for us,” said McGuff. “I think the first one is to try to just get her a little bit under control in transition. When she gets going, if she gets lanes to the basket, she’s going to get there and finish.”
Sheldon on Harmon is the likely matchup, but it won’t be just one person guarding the freshman. Everyone has to be prepared.
Tonight, Sheldon will need to be especially careful on turnovers, with Harmon following her every move. That’s been one sore spot on an otherwise fantastic season for Sheldon. This season, Sheldon averages three turnovers per game, and has nine in two games so far this tournament.
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Sheldon makes up for the turnovers and then some. Missouri State and LSU haven’t been able to stop Sheldon’s speed to the basket, passing, or defensive energy. As a freshman, tonight will be another early-career test to overcome Harmon and Sheldon and the Buckeyes aim to not make it an easy one.
Next Buckeye Up
Each game, it’s guaranteed that Sheldon and fellow guard Taylor Mikesell will be at the top of the Buckeyes' scoring. That’s no slight to the remaining Ohio State players, but a compliment to the splash sisters’ season. A third, and maybe fourth, Buckeye must step up to move on to the Elite Eight.
Against LSU, it was forward Rebeka Mikulasikova who scored 12 points on 2-for-3 shooting from beyond the arc. Throughout the season it’s been different people in that third position. Who will it be tonight?
Forwards Tanaya Beacham and Taylor Thierry have logged big minutes in the tournament and added defense and rebounding when Ohio State needed it most. The Buckeyes will need a continuation of that, but tonight, guard Kateri Poole is a good candidate to add big plays.
Poole started at point guard for the Buckeyes until sustaining an injury on Jan. 9, against Northwestern. Since then, Rikki Harris has been at the helm in the Buckeyes’ third guard position. If the Buckeyes are rebounding well, and are in a close game, Poole dribbles past defenders and attacks the basket.
Ohio State doesn’t need a double-digit performance by Poole either. If Poole can contribute six or eight points, it could be the difference between a win and a loss.