The Ohio State Buckeyes women’s basketball team is now onto the 2023 calendar after playing a nearly perfect first half of the season. At 15-0, the Scarlet & Gray are the only remaining undefeated team in the Big Ten, which added to their No. 3 national ranking garners a lot of attention.
The next team with a chance to stop the streak are the Minnesota Golden Gophers. It’s a game that favors the Buckeyes, but after both the Indiana Hoosiers and Iowa Hawkeyes lost to unranked Big Ten units in the last week, there are no guarantees in conference play.
Ohio State’s been heavily on the winning side of things when it comes to games against Minnesota. Head coach Kevin McGuff’s Buckeyes are on a 10-game winning streak against the Gophers. Minnesota last beat Ohio State on Feb. 24, 2016. Back then, a lot of players on the two current teams weren’t even teenagers yet.
Even so, if there’s a group that can shock the Buckeyes, it might be the youth of the Golden Gophers. Head coach Lindsey Whalen, who was hired for the Minnesota job three days before coach McGuff back in April of 2013, is using a team of underclassmen to compete.
The Golden Gophers carry a 14-player roster. Half are freshmen, with the remaining seven split between a senior, three graduate students and three sophomores. Their starting lineup alone features four freshmen and a sophomore. So far, it’s worked about as expected — inconsistent results and an 8-6 record.
Part of those six losses are defeats to the Iowa Hawkeyes and Maryland Terrapins. Iowa and Maryland both beat the Gophers by 22 points in their respective conference match-ups.
However, the future in Minnesota is bright, and it features freshman Mara Braun. Braun leads Minnesota in scoring, averaging 17.4 points per game, which also makes her the highest scoring freshman in the Big Ten. The young Minnesota-native is a confident shooter who has the ability to attack the basket and hit free throws at a strong clip.
To start Big Ten play, Braun hit five free throws in the final 1:18 of the game. Of the five, three came at the end of regulation when the guard was fouled beyond the arc, hitting all three to tie the game. Despite being a freshman, Braun possesses a maturity that’s pushing a team with little experience throughout their roster.
She isn’t alone either. Sophomore Alanna Micheaux and freshman Mallory Heyer, both forwards, average 12.5 and 11.4 points and 6.9 and 6.3 rebounds per game respectively. They lead a Minnesota team that sits atop the conference in rebounding with 43.5 per game — an area that Ohio State is not known for in the past two seasons.
The Golden Gophers are strong offensively and on the boards, but go back to the youth factor. An area where they struggle is defense. Take those rebounds for example. They also lead the conference in most rebounds allowed per game.
When Minnesota plays, there are a lot of opportunities for offense. Minnesota is seventh in scoring in the conference and 12th in points allowed. If thats indicative of how Thursday’s game goes, Ohio State’s scorers will have their chances.
If the Scarlet & Gray’s press can frustrate a team of mostly underclassmen, it could be a lot of scoring runs from the Buckeyes.
- Buckeyes’ current starters average 63.5 points per game of Ohio State’s 87.3 total per game.
- Although guard Emma Shumate has only appeared in 13 games, averaging 11.3 minutes per game, she leads Ohio State with 13 blocks.
- Guard/forward Taylor Thierry still leads the nation in field goal percentage, even with it dropping slightly from 73% to 71.2%.
- Braun’s 17.5 points per game is a high for freshmen, and ninth overall in the Big Ten.
- Sophomore Alanna Micheaux leads the team in rebounding with 6.7 per game and has increased her scoring to 8.5 points per game.
- Minnesota allows 71.1 points per game, the third-highest in the Big Ten.
This will be a game where the Buckeyes leverage their experience. Even without guard Jacy Sheldon, who’s still out week-to-week with a lower leg injury, there's enough energy and intensity on the Buckeyes roster to disrupt Minnesota.
Ohio State will force over 20 turnovers for the 15th time in 16 games, and forward Cotie McMahon has a strong scoring performance. Also, if forward Rebeka Mikulášiková can force the Golden Gophers’ young presence in the paint into early fouls, it’ll go a long way in securing a confident win for the No. 3 Buckeyes.
How to Watch
Date: Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Where: Williams Arena, Minneapolis, Minnesota
LGHL Prediction: 89-72 Ohio State Buckeyes
Illinois Fighting Illini on the horizon
So far, the Scarlet and Gray’s schedule has been pitting them against a tough opponent right after a game against a lesser team, which gives players the chance to look beyond their current challenge. Thursday’s trip to Minnesota is no exception.
Ohio State returns home for a Sunday afternoon game against the Illinois Fighting Illini. While they haven’t had a winning record in almost 10 seasons, this year is different. First year Illini head coach Shauna Greene has one of the best rebounders in the conference and a rising star in NC State transfer Genesis Bryant.
If Ohio State lacks intensity for a chunk of their game against Minnesota, which has happened throughout the early parts of the season, it might be the big orange distraction sitting three days ahead on the Buckeyes’ calendar.