In the last two seasons, matchups between Ohio State women’s basketball and the Penn State Nittany Lions have been infrequent. Caught in a stretch of the Big Ten schedule where each side only had one meetup per season, the two former powerhouses in the conference only had one chance to renew the rivalry.
Although the Buckeyes trail the overall program series against the Nittany Lions, sitting at 37-29, it’s been all scarlet and gray over the past 10 years. Ohio State is 13-3 in that stretch, and on a two-game winning streak. However, this year Penn State looks like it's closer to flipping the script as ever.
Sunday’s game had all the makings of a potential early season conference blockbuster, until Monday night. That’s when the Penn State Nittany Lions looked vulnerable again, something they haven’t looked so far in the 23-24 season. At the hands of the West Virginia Mountaineers, Penn State fell to 7-2, and likely out of the top 25 rankings, which the Nittany Lions just got back into the same day after 10 years.
The Mountaineers won 83-65, using a pestering press defense for much of 40 minutes. It shut Penn State’s big three down, scoring a combined 18 points. Now, PSU has to dust itself off against an Ohio State side that’s going to continue what the Mountaineers started.
Last season, the Buckeyes were known for strong defense and this year its even better. After eight games in the 22-23 campaign, the scarlet and gray averaged 13.1 turnovers and 63.0 points per game. This season, turnovers are up and points are down, averaging 13.9 and 57.8 respectively.
While concerns over three-point shooting dominated the narrative for head coach Kevin McGuff’s unit in the offseason, a better defense has made it a moot point. Even with a tough defeat to start the season, against the USC Trojans, the team chemistry’s improved game-by-game and today there aren’t many teams who want to go up against the Buckeyes.
Even so, Penn State still has the personnel to give the defense a challenge. Leading PSU are the three names Big Ten have grown to know over the past few seasons. Guard Makenna Marisa is where it all begins. The two-time First Team All-Big Ten selection leads the Nittany Lions in points and point-creation with 16.0 points and 3.7 assists per game.
For years, stopping Marisa was a challenge but also the best way to stop the Happy Valley side. Now though, guards Shay Ciezki and Leilani Kapinus lead a whole cast of support. The sophomore and junior are different styles of guards. Ohio State has to watch the deep shooting game of Ciezki and Kapinus plays a similar offensive game to guard/forward Taylor Thierry.
They’ve both been on the team for three years (two for Ciezki) but the transfer portal was busy in the offseason. Head coach Carolyn Kieger added six transfers, but the two making the biggest impact are guards Taylor Valladay and Jayla Oden.
Valladay comes in from the University of Virginia. The former Cavalier began the season in the starting rotation but moved to a bench role in the last five games. Valladay is a quick and tall guard who will get to the line frequently if the Buckeyes aren’t careful. In the Lions last two games, the graduate senior has 29 combined points scored, 11 and 18 point-games.
Oden won’t play as much as Valladay, but the former Illinois Fighting Illini guard comes in to score key bench points for the Lions. The Baltimore, Maryland native is having a career year for coach Kieger, averaging 7.1 points off the bench in less minutes than last year in Illinois.
Sunday might be a game won either by the most disciplined side or at the free throw line. Each team features names who predominantly score inside the paint. Will sophomore forward Cotie McMahon continue her tear? McMahon had a slow first game against the Trojans but has since averaged 16.9 points and 5.0 rebounds.
When McMahon isn’t spinning around, or running straight into, a crowd in the paint, she’s working on her long shooting game. McMahon has a three in each of the last four games, plus debuting a midrange fadeaway, the same move used by her favorite NBA player LeBron James.
For Ohio State, it has to stop Kapinus and forward Ali Bringham under the basket. The two are a physical presence in the paint who can rebound and hit layups. How the two get into the offensive game though goes back to defense. If the Buckeyes steal sisters duo of Jacy Sheldon and Celeste Taylor play the defense they’ve played to start the season, ranked fifth and sixth in the conference respectively in steals, Marisa and Ciezki won’t have the same impact on scoring or getting the ball into Penn State bigs.
G- Jacy Sheldon
G- Celeste Taylor
G- Taylor Thierry
F- Cotie McMahon
F- Rebeka Mikulášiková
- The Buckeyes have used the same starting five in every game so far this season. Barring a surprise injury, expect that to continue.
- Forward Rebeka Mikulášiková averages 15 points over the past three games, becoming the fourth Buckeye to average double-digit points in the early 23-24 season.
- Guard Emma Shumate now leads Ohio State with 15 made three-point shots after hitting six against the Ohio Bobcats on Tuesday. Last year, guard Taylor Mikesell had 26 three-point shots after eight games.
G- Shay Ciezki
G- Makenna Marisa
G- Leilani Kapinus
F- Chanaya Pinto
F- Ali Brigham
- Penn State’s used this lineup in each of the last five games.
- Ciezki averages 13.8 points per game, but had a rough outing against West Virginia, scoring no points and committing four fouls in 22 minutes.
- Guard Ashley Owusu, former All-American, has yet to get onto the court for Penn State this season.
The Buckeyes will win if they don’t allow Ciezki to get going from beyond the arc, which should happen unless the Nittany Lions use Marisa to get up the court and have Ciezki draw attention by getting up to the front court.
Defensively, Sheldon and Taylor will make the sophomore Ciezki’s day difficult, but Marisa will still hit big shots. Inside the paint, the Nittany Lions have an advantage on rebounding but defensively will struggle against the likes of McMahon, Thierry and Mikulášiková.
How to Watch
Date: Sunday, Dec. 9, 2023
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Where: Schottenstein Center, Columbus, Ohio
LGHL Prediction: 87-71 Ohio State Buckeyes
Sunday, the Buckeyes in-arena atmosphere will include a visit from some Ohio State players of the past. Local ones like program legend Katie Smith have appeared at editions of this in the past. Could guard Taylor Mikesell also make an appearance? Who knows.
Unfortunately, the game won’t be on any television service to highlight both the alumni and a top 25 Big Ten conference matchup. The game’s been put on B1G+, meaning less eyes will be on a battle that deserves a lot of them.