It’s hard to tell how a team comes out of having almost a week off from games, but the Ohio State women’s basketball team wasted no time letting the conference know they’re not relenting. The No. 3, undefeated, Buckeyes beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers on their own court, in a different way than usual, led by a big day from a forward.
Here’s what stood out from the win.
Rebeka Mikulášiková is Back
In the words of head coach Kevin McGuff, “She’s back!”
⛓️ EIGHTEENTH Dub Chain ⛓️ pic.twitter.com/UXgleiQJgQ— Ohio State WBB (@OhioStateWBB) January 14, 2023
Forward Rebeka Mikulášiková started the year on a tear. In the first eight games, Mikulášiková scored 158 points, compared to last season where the forward started all 32 games and scored 301. She was on a trend to blow away her previous three NCAA seasons combined.
In the next nine games that followed though, inconsistency plagued Mikulášiková and her body language on the court was one of frustration. Saturday, Mikulášiková looked like the one who started the 2022-23 season.
The Slovakian was dangerous all over the court against the Huskers. In the first half, Mikulášiková went after Nebraska center Alexis Markowski, playing with agility and patience to get around the 21/22 Freshman of the Year.
Mikulášiková scored 10 of her 13 first-half points inside the three-point line, causing Nebraska to adjust in the second half. After Nebraska outscored the Buckeyes 13-6 to cut their deficit to one, the forward took over. After a few failed attempts to break through triple coverage in the paint, Mikulášiková stepped back and hit shots from everywhere outside of it.
Ohio State outscored Nebraska 14-5 to end the third quarter and Mikulášiková had nine of those points. It was a crucial game not only for the standings but Mikulášiková’s season.
“I feel like it was missing from me the past couple of games,” said Mikulášiková. “I was shooting a lot of threes and I didn’t play well inside, so I wanted to focus on playing a more balanced game inside and out.”
In Mikulasikova’s 25-point game, the balance was clear. The forward scored nine points from deep, two from the free throw line, and the remaining 14 points from inside the paint and with midrange shots.
Over the past month, the Scarlet & Gray turned black and blue after going up against dominant players in the paint. Against the USF Bulls on Dec. 20, Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu scored 34 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. Last Sunday, Illinois Fighting Illini forward Kendall Bostic had 27 points and 15 rebounds.
In both of those games, the Buckeyes needed to mount big comebacks to overcome the big’s performances. To the tune of 18 points against USF and 17 versus the Fighting Illini. Saturday, the Buckeyes faced an equally dangerous center in Alexis Markowski and it was a different story.
“Nebraska has very tall and physical players, especially in the paint,” said forward Taylor Thierry. “They can score on you not only in the paint but on the perimeter but yeah, definitely our focus was making sure it was tough for them to score in the paint.”
Mikulášiková, Thierry, and forward Cotie McMahon made it especially difficult for Markowski and the Cornhuskers.
Last season, Markowski had a double-double of 23 points and 15 rebounds against the Buckeyes. Saturday it was 15 points and eight rebounds. While Markowski still had her moments, especially in the third quarter, the center who entered the game with nine double-doubles on the season wasn’t as impactful as usual.
From the jump, Ohio State made sure there were players inside the paint, making things difficult for anyone who came into the post. Mikulášiková was integral in that, putting her hands up, mostly avoiding unnecessary fouls, and keeping scoring down.
Although Nebraska outscored Ohio State in the paint 42-36, most of those points came from guard Sam Haiby who led Nebraska with 16 points. Many of those came on one-on-one runs to the basket starting near the perimeter.
A positive in outside of the paint defense was Huskers’ guard Jaz Shelley. Buckeyes’ guards held her to six points, continuing a tough run for the Australian’s scoring. Shelley’s scored 21 points in the last four games, including a zero-point game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
That doesn’t mean she wasn’t effective elsewhere though. Shelley still had six assists and five steals on the day.
Depth Paying Off
With guards Jacy Sheldon and Madison Greene out, most of the questions to coach McGuff and the Buckeyes are surrounding their depth. After weeks of increased minutes for Walker and guards Hevynne Bristow and Emma Shumate, their presence was needed against Nebraska.
That’s because the foul calls were coming Ohio State’s way fast and fierce, but not unfairly. The Buckeyes were physical and seemed to feed off the loud home Nebraska crowd. That meant players had to go to the bench.
McMahon was especially difficult to lose, but Bristow gave quality minutes in the freshman’s place. Bristow struggled with a few tough turnovers but made up for them with highly efficient shooting and big plays.
Bristow had eight points off two open threes the Cornhuskers gave the Brooklyn, New York native. In the fourth, Bristow also made a play that helped suck the energy and Cornhuskers' momentum out of the arena.
Substitutes Walker and Shumate each put in five minutes of their own, although not as impactful offensively, but still playing positively on defense. If the play of the three regular substitutes for Ohio State continues, and Sheldon returns from her lower leg injury, it pushes the Buckeyes to another level.
Tough Day for Cotie McMahon
McMahon’s day wasn’t tough because of a bad performance but because of the physicality that came her way throughout the game.
At the start of the game, McMahon was fantastic. The forward had three assists, four points, and a block on Markowski in eight minutes on the court. In one run to the basket, McMahon took a knock from Markowski, sending her to the padding at the base of the basket.
Then, late in the first quarter, McMahon turned her ankle when forward Isabelle Bourne gave up position to McMahon with the freshman’s back turned. It put McMahon on the bench until almost halfway into the second quarter.
Foul trouble also hampered her day, getting to four fouls in the third quarter, but when she returned another knock came her way. In the fourth quarter, McMahon landed hard on her left arm, but the forward continued to play. For now, the freshman is doing ok.
“She plays so hard and just collisions happen all over the place with her,” said McGuff. “So that’s going to happen, but she bounces back and she’s a tough kid, so I think she’s fine.”
While Mikulášiková controlled the attention for much of the game, guards Rikki Harris and Thierry put in foundational performances.
Both of the starters had no turnovers, in a game where Nebraska forced more turnovers than the Buckeyes. Thierry also shot 100% from the field, hitting 6-for-6 and another point from the free throw line.
Harris added eight rebounds, four assists, and a steal. Although her scoring efficiency was tough, going 2-for-8, a Harris three-point shot in the third quarter ultimately kept Ohio State in the lead for the entire game. Plus the defensive work the junior put into covering Shelley made it another important game for Ohio State’s point guard while Sheldon recovers.
Cutting Back on the Press
Nebraska forced more turnovers than Ohio State 18-12. While the amount isn’t ideal, the reason the Buckeyes forced turnovers was down was by design.
“We didn’t press as much as we normally do, we wanted to play a little differently today,” said McGuff. “I thought we could win in the half-court and I thought for the most part our defense was pretty good. We’ve been riding these kids hard so we didn’t want to press as much today just to save their legs a little bit.”
It’s a sign that coach McGuff is focused on the long haul for this team. He doesn’t care about staying undefeated, but getting Ohio State prepared for March. The half-court focus paid off for the Buckeyes against Nebraska.