The Ohio State women’s basketball team took home court again after 11 days away. Head coach Kevin McGuff’s Buckeyes got off to a hot start and never looked back, going start to finish in the lead for the second game in a row.
In this edition of Game Notes, how the substitutes play Thursday helps Monday, a key player getting back into top form and there are at least two players on the Scarlet & Gray who can dunk.
Substitutes Strengthening Depth
A key storyline of Thursday’s 84-54 Buckeyes win wasn’t a strong game by guard Taylor Mikesell or forward Rebeka Mikulasikova. Even though they both had them, more on them later. It was how coach McGuff wisely prepared for the upcoming stretch.
The Buckeyes welcome the No. 10 Iowa Hawkeyes on Monday, then travel to the No. 6 Indiana Hoosiers three days later. It gets slightly easier from there, with the Purdue Boilermakers coming to Columbus, but then a week later the Scarlet & Gray face the No. 11 Maryland Terrapins in Maryland.
Suffice it to say the schedule is hitting another level.
That means Thursday’s game had some strategy involved. It came in the form of a revolving door of substitutions throughout the game. McGuff used guards Hevynne Bristow, Emma Shumate, and forward Eboni Walker more than any other game this season.
Bristow played just under 27 minutes, with Shumate and Walker posting 16 and 13 minutes respectively. All three playing well over their season averages, especially when taking away games against smaller non-conference opponents.
“With injuries coming in, people are getting experience that we need,” said Bristow. “You never know what happens in the future that they have to be ready and this gets them prepared for that.”
It was especially nice for Walker who got to play in front of a large group of family who came into town for the upcoming home stretch. Walker, the transfer from Syracuse, scored a scoring high in a Buckeyes uniform with eight points and six rebounds. In those points were impressive moves inside the paint, and a smooth midrange completion.
That meant starters played fewer minutes than usual. Only guard Rikki Harris eclipsed the 30-minute mark. None of the other starters hit 30 minutes, with Mikesell playing five minutes under her season average of 34.9 minutes per game.
“It’ll pay dividends come Monday,” said McGuff.
They're On Fire
In the early season, especially when guard Jacy Sheldon went down with an injury, it was the duo of Mikesell and Mikulášiková leading the offense. As the season’s progressed, Mikulášiková had a dip in production and players like forward Cotie McMahon and guard/forward Taylor Thierry saw increased production.
Thursday, the tag team of seniors was back in that form. For the second game in a row, Mikulášiková hit double-digit scoring and played a strong game on defense. Northwestern’s leading scorer, forward Caileigh Walsh, scored only three points and had three rebounds the entire game.
“She was really good tonight. We need her,” said McGuff. “She’s a really big part of what we do so we need her to be ready every night.”
In the seemingly always-ready category is Mikesell. The guard tied Mikulášiková for the leading point scorer with 18 points. The graduate senior also added three steals and two assists. Mikesell’s three was strong in the opening quarter, and helped push the lead for Ohio State before cooling down in the second half.
⛓️⛓️⛓️⛓️⛓️⛓️⛓️⛓️⛓️⛓️⛓️⛓️⛓️⛓️⛓️⛓️⛓️⛓️⛓️ (Yes, that’s 19 dub chains for those keeping count) pic.twitter.com/WYEOl4wrpt— Ohio State WBB (@OhioStateWBB) January 20, 2023
What Mikesell does for the Scarlet & Gray is often overlooked because it’s become commonplace. However, Mikesell’s leadership all season, really starting last season when she announced she was returning for her final season, made the absence of Sheldon not as noticeable. Which is no easy feat.
Even if Mikesell only played two seasons with Ohio State, regardless of the outcome of the season her name will be synonymous with Buckeyes basketball.
The first-quarter three-point shooting was on fire for the Buckeyes last night. Of Ohio State’s eight made shots from deep, five came in the first quarter. It wasn’t by design either.
Northwestern is known for its zone defense, but early on it was a lot softer than its nickname of “blizzard” suggests. The Buckeyes didn’t attack the paint much, opting for 11 of their 20 shots from beyond the arc.
“I thought we were getting open threes but we weren’t getting a lot of balance in our offense,” said McGuff. “We weren’t getting the ball around the basket, which didn’t allow us to get to the free throw line that much in the first half.”
Offensively, the Buckeyes did change their game plan in the second. McMahon was the catalyst, going hard into the basket, getting to the line 10 times, and scoring seven of her 11 points in the game from the charity stripe.
Strong Defensive Showing
Ohio State played well defensively Thursday too. The Buckeyes held the visitors to 32.7% shooting, six percentage points less than their season average. For over 10 minutes, from 4:34 in the first quarter to 4:14 in the second quarter, the Buckeyes didn’t allow made baskets from the run of play. scoring six points from the free-throw line.
“I thought we executed defensively really well, kind of throughout,” said McGuff. “We were kind of in the right spot doing the right things in the first half but not with as much energy as we’d like.”
It’s no coincidence that the run of holding the Wildcats back started right after McGuff screamed “wake up!” to his side after Walsh had an easy layup in the paint.
Also, the press was back to normal. The Scarlet and Gray forced 19 turnovers and gave up only 11. Leading the way for Ohio State were Harris, Mikesell, and Bristow, who each had three. Of the 10 players who suited up, six grabbed at least one steal, and all five starters got in on the game.
Alongside the substitutions giving fresh legs, implementing a press against Northwestern gave Ohio State a more fluid transition to using it Monday against the Hawkeyes. No need to fire the defensive strategy back up when Thursday did the job for the Buckeyes.
Before this note goes into more detail, it should be known that Land-Grant Holy Land doesn’t need dunking to enjoy covering and watching the Ohio State women’s basketball team. Now that that’s out of the way, there are two Buckeyes on the roster who can most certainly slam dunk a basketball.
Guards Bristow and Bristow each have that ability. The two have great leaping skills and a long wingspan. On Thursday, two moments proved this theory, with one captured on video and shared on the Buckeyes’ social media page:
The official team social media agrees with Land-Grant Holy Land. They shared that video to the official team account with an additional caption saying “Just dunk it next time and give the people what they want!!!”
That’s what we’re saying!
She's Heating Up
This isn’t a note as much as it is a statement and it's for the Buckeyes. Mikulášiková with the Michael Jordan shrug. This was a highlight moment from media row, and the social team at the Ohio State University picked it up quickly.
Shruggin’ like Jordan ♀️ pic.twitter.com/XxVDC0CpN7— Ohio State WBB (@OhioStateWBB) January 20, 2023