Ohio State women’s basketball returned home Thursday for a stretch of three home games in their next four contests. It began with the second meeting of the season with the Northwestern Wildcats.
In the first game, the Buckeyes started somewhat slow but pulled away for an 81-48 victory. Thursday, the Buckeyes repeated their performance, keeping Northwestern winless in conference play with a 84-54 victory.
Northwestern’s known for a vigorous “blizzard” zone defense, and early on it was forcing the Buckeyes to shoot from deep. Fortunately for Ohio State, it was working in their favor. Forward Rebeka Mikulášiková picked up where she left off from Saturday’s win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers, hitting her first two attempts from beyond the arc.
Following Mikulášiková was the guard pairing of Rikki Harris and Taylor Mikesell. Harris hit a three-pointer followed by two from Mikesell, plus a layup of her own. Mikesell led Ohio State with eight points in the quarter.
Defensively, the Buckeyes were strong. The Wildcats had difficulties all quarter hitting shots, making only 28.6% of their 14 shots attempted.
While the Scarlet & Gray had trouble attacking inside the arc, 5-for-10 shooting from three-point range gave the home team a 19-9 lead to end the first quarter.
Even though it was a game that saw the top team in the conference go up against the bottom team, Buckeyes head coach Kevin McGuff wanted the Scarlet & Gray performing at their best. Early in the second quarter, as Northwestern forward Caileigh Walsh hit a spin move and a layup, McGuff screamed, “wake up!” to his side.
It wasn’t that Ohio State was playing particularly poor defensively, but the Buckeyes were missing shots on offense and putting the Wildcats on the free throw line. The Buckeyes cleaned up their fouling as the second quarter went on, but neither side could find the momentum to go on a run.
Part of the reason was the carousel of players for Ohio State. Coach McGuff rotated guards Hevynne Bristow, Emma Shumate and forward Eboni Walker frequently in the first half, with Walker earning seven first half minutes compared to five total Saturday against the Cornhuskers.
Also, the three-point shooting diminished in the second quarter. The Buckeyes went 1-for-7 from range, but Northwestern still had trouble breaking through the Scarlet & Gray defense. Ohio State extended their lead to 14 points before halftime, heading into the break up 38-24.
Coming out of the locker room for the second half was a familiar story for the Buckeyes. Ohio State came out on fire, scoring eight of the first 10 points of the period. Leading the way early in the third quarter was Cotie McMahon. The forward scored six points, four coming off steals by guards Thierry and Harris, pushing the home team’s lead up to 20 points.
The Buckeyes would stretch that lead to 26 by the end of the quarter. Both McMahon and Mikulášiková were strong in the paint in the third period, scoring a combined seven points from the free throw line, and 15 of the Buckeyes’s 27 points in the quarter.
Northwestern couldn’t seem to find a way to get back into the game, making an already difficult year for the 2020 regular season conference champions even worse. Ohio State outscored the visitors 13-5 in the second half of the third quarter, needing to hold the lead for only 10 more minutes to reach 19-0.
Coach McGuff kept his starters out for start of the fourth quarter, minus McMahon who didn’t return after being substituted in the third quarter. The Wildcats scored six of the first eight, but their comeback attempt was short-lived.
Ohio State hit the gas and pulled away further from Northwestern, earning the 84-54 win. With the victory, the Buckeyes are one win away from matching their program record winning streak. The 20-game win streak has been achieved twice, in the 1984-85 and 2005-06 seasons.
Mikulášiková Heating Up at the Right Time
Thursday was a second-straight standout performance for the Slovakian forward — on International Night of all games. Mikulášiková started the night shooting from deep, but again found her stride throughout the offensive half of the court.
After a 25-point performance against Nebraska, Mikulášiková had 18 points against Northwestern and seven rebounds. Back to consecutive double-digit scoring performances for the first time since the end of November, the forward’s found her form just as Ohio State welcomes a top-10 team in the Hawkeyes, Monday.
Last season, Mikulášiková scored 17 points against Iowa, going 5-for-6 from the three-point line. A performance Ohio State might need again to compete with Caitlin Clark and the Hawkeyes.
Physical Game for McMahon
The word’s getting out in the Big Ten that McMahon is going to attack the basket. After Saturday’s game in Lincoln, Nebraska where the forward had to sit due to turning an ankle, plus a hard fall on her arm in the fourth, Northwestern was physical with the freshman.
McMahon took the first eight free throws for the Buckeyes. It took three minutes into the third quarter for another player to get to the free throw line. That’s because McMahon was using the speed and power she’s exhibited in her first year to get to the charity stripe.
The No. 2 Buckeyes are off until Monday, but they return for a huge contest. Ohio State welcomes the No. 10 Iowa Hawkeyes to Columbus for their lone regular season meeting of the year.
Last season, the two teams combined for 180 points in a 92-88 Ohio State win. It’s also a rematch of the two teams who shared last season's Big Ten regular season championship — a battle of co-champions.