After No. 3 Ohio State women’s basketball (15-0) beat the No. 14 Michigan Wolverines on New Year’s Eve, it’s been a quiet week for the top-ranked team in the conference. On Thursday night the heat was back on, traveling north to face the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Ohio State continued their streak of wins this season, and their now 11-game winning streak against the Gophers, beating Minnesota 83-71.
The Buckeyes started the game as well as they could. Their first two shots from the team’s leading scorers in guard Taylor Mikesell and Rebeka Mikulášiková put the Buckeyes up five points quickly. The Scarlet & Gray pushed the lead to seven, but went cold offensively and defensively.
Passing and timing was off early. Ohio State forced but also committed four turnovers, giving the Gophers five points off the giveaways. With the ball, shooting faltered and the Buckeyes went 2-for-7 after their early hot start.
On the other side, Minnesota went 4-for-5, with three of those makes coming off layups. The Buckeyes’ defense in the paint struggled, forcing a timeout from head coach Kevin McGuff, who charged onto the court with words to say to his team.
McGuff was more fired up than usual in the game. Maybe it was just more noticeable with Minnesota’s sidelines being below the court level and nobody to sit or stand next to the coach. Even so, the defense wasn’t up to stopping the Gophers up to that stoppage in play.
Off the timeout though, forward Eboni Walker entered the game, and Ohio State’s presence improved.
It let the Scarlet & Gray get their lead back up to 10, but Minnesota kept fighting back. Before the end-of-period buzzer, Gophers guard Katie Borowicz threw up a three before the shot clock expired and hit the shot. Ohio State still held the lead, 24-19, going into the second quarter, but it wouldn’t last.
Returning back to the game in the second quarter was forward Rebeka Mikulášiková, who Walker relieved at the pivotal first quarter timeout. Mikulášiková had a difficult start to the quarter. The forward struggled to keep up with the quick attacks of the Golden Gophers. Then, after two bad passes in a row, McGuff brought Walker back into the game.
Minnesota’s shooting improved, with the Gophers initial deflated play at the start of the game gaining more confidence as they continued to make things difficult for the Buckeyes. The home team shot 52.4% in the second quarter, compared to only 38.5% for the Scarlet & Gray.
Included in Minnesota’s strong second half was a 12-point run that put the Buckeyes down for the first time in the game. The Golden Gophers went up four before Ohio State swung the lead back in their favor, but it too wouldn’t last. Forwards Mallory Heyer and Alanna Micheaux scored six of the last eight Gophers points, compared to just two from the Buckeyes.
Ohio State entered halftime down four, 43-39.
Usually when Ohio State comes out of the locker room at the half, there’s a noticeable difference. On Thursday, it looked like much of the same. The Buckeyes struggled with poor shooting, and halfway through the quarter the Gophers extended their lead, but only by a point.
Guard Taylor Thierry was pushing Ohio State, grabbing offensive rebounds and giving the Buckeyes chances, but they started the third quarter shooting 2-for-11. There were rushed attempts, 1-for-4 shooting from deep and a team that didn’t look like they had it.
Minnesota’s youth almost gave them a mentality of being inexperienced enough to not care about a team with a No. 3 ranking. The Gophers increased their lead to 10, but Ohio State wasn’t backing down quite yet.
The Buckeyes went on an 8-0 run with Walker starting it on a midrange jumper. Then, it was Thierry doing things now in the scoring column, hitting a layup plus a bonus free throw from the line. Then, Mikulášiková hit a three to pull Ohio State within two.
It looked like another game where Ohio State pulls things back their way, but missed their final four shots of the quarter. Minnesota freshman forward Heyer hit a three late, and put the home team back up six with 10 minutes remaining.
Then, in the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes gained some life. After hitting layups on two consecutive fastbreaks, fouls made the game a chippy. After one against forward Cotie McMahon, Minnesota guard Mi’cole Cayton received a technical for talking to a ref after the call.
Soon after, it was Mikesell getting fouled and hitting both free throws, which put Ohio State in the lead for the first time since 2:58 remaining in the second quarter.
Within the first four minutes of the final quarter, the Scarlet & Gray hit five free throws. Then, Mikulášiková hit her fifth three-point shot of the night. Suddenly Ohio State was in the driver’s seat with a 69-61 lead, forcing a Gophers timeout.
In the second half of the fourth quarter, Minnesota threw all they could to get back into the lead, but started shooting like Ohio State did for most of the game. The Gophers had their worst shooting quarter of the game, hitting 20% from the field in the 83-71 Buckeyes win.
The Slovakian forward had a difficult first half defensively, but was clutch for Ohio State on offense when they needed it.
Mikulášiková scored 15 points, making five threes on the night. It’s only the second game of double-digit scoring in the last eight for the forward who hit that mark in each of her first eight games.
Most of Mikulášiková’s points came in the second half, coming when Ohio State needed them the most.
Losing at Their Own Game
What hurt Ohio State the most in the first half was poor defending and giving the ball away. While the Buckeyes are known for their press and causing fits for opponents, a team with four freshmen and a sophomore starting forced more turnovers than Ohio State.
Minnesota forced 12, compared to only seven for the visitors. The home team scored 12 additional points off those turnovers, with the Buckeyes never really looking like their best selves over the first 20 minutes.
While the turnovers improved in the third quarter, Ohio State gave up the ball only once, but didn’t capitalize with 25% shooting.
Minnesota showed that playing the Buckeyes with pressure and physicality causes problems for Ohio State.
Ohio State’s next game is three days away back in Columbus, Ohio. Their opponent is a surprising team in the Big Ten this season — the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Illinois is surpassing all of their own expectations with first year head coach Shauna Greene leading the Illini to their first season with 11 wins before the end of the calendar year. After beating the Iowa Hawkeyes on New Year’s Day, the attention on Illinois has grown.
Sunday’s game tips off at 1:00 p.m. ET.