So far this season, the Ohio State women’s basketball team’s faced competition that’s regularly had the Buckeyes as the heavy favorites entering games. Outside of falling to the USC Trojans on Nov. 6, the scarlet and gray stepped up and had little issue taking care of the remaining non-conference sides in its schedule.
Monday night, that changes.
That’s when the No. 2 UCLA Bruins head to the Schottenstein Center for a matchup that gives a look into the crystal ball for the future of Big Ten basketball. Before UCLA can join the conference though, it has the chance to put not only the conference, but the country even further on notice than it already has this season.
UCLA is good. They are very good. Not only is the team undefeated to start the season, but the Bruins have three wins over ranked teams, with the Princeton Tigers becoming ranked following a close defeat to UCLA. That three point win for the future Big Ten team is the outlier in a season full of one-sided games.
Against the then-No. 6 UConn Huskies on Nov. 24, the Bruins led beginning-to-end, leading by as much as 23 points. Wash and repeat when UCLA faced No. 20 Florida State in a 95-78 victory.
Leading the way is a dynamic quartet of sophomores. All four average at least 10 points per game, but guard Kiki Rice is at a different level. In nine games, Rice averages 13.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 6.9 assists. The guard has one triple-double this season (which was three steals away from a quadruple-double) and two additional games where she was within two to three stat items from another triple-double. Rice isn’t the highest scoring Bruin on the team, but it's hard to find someone more dangerous in every aspect of the game.
Alongside Rice are a duo of guards who have had their turns starting this year, but both come off the bench as some of the strongest depth in the league. Londynn Jones, who played with Rice and Buckeyes forward Cotie McMahon on Team USA youth teams, and Gabriela Jaquez 14.1 and 14.8 points, respectively. Jaquez sits second on the UCLA roster with 7.1 rebounds per game too.
Overall, the guard play has the scoring ability, but will have its hands full with the steal sisters of Jacy Sheldon and Celeste Taylor. The duo of graduate seniors become shadows on the players they defend. A question will be how often will the Bruins make substitutions to bring in fresh legs. UCLA has seven players who play at least 20 minutes a game, compared to only five on Ohio State.
The biggest UCLA game changer isn’t going to be taking shots from deep or using ball handing skills to dribble past defenders. Nope. The player that’s making opposing coaches sleep less at night is the fourth sophomore: center Lauren Betts. The 6-foot-7 transfer from Stanford gives flashbacks to former Baylor Bear All-American Brittney Griner, with slightly less agility than the college legend. UCLA makes life difficult for most teams because there aren’t many that possess a player who can go against Betts like-for-like.
Ohio State is not one of those teams.
Betts is likely to have a double-double in points and rebounds. The Buckeyes have shown that they can give up those stat lines and still squeak out victories. Monday night can go Ohio State’s way if its able to keep in check those around Betts.
That means impressive games are needed from the likely contributors. McMahon is the primary name to watch. Even with Betts in the lane, McMahon will still go for the basket and potentially put the center into situations to pick up fouls. Also, forward Rebeka Mikulášiková could be a secret weapon if she hits threes. That could give more space inside the paint if Betts steps away to take space away from Mikulášiková.
Ohio State needs a resurgence from guard/forward hybrid Taylor Thierry. In two of the last four games, Thierry’s been held to less than 10 points — the only two times it's happened so far this season. Recent performances have been a far cry from the start of the year. Thierry averaged 14.8 points and 7.7 rebounds in the first six games of the season, compared to 10.5 and 3.5 in the past four.
Early season layups that went in are clanging out, and Thierry’s been boxed out inside the paint, away from grabbing a near-average rebound total. Sheldon and Taylor should help in the rebound department, and if they do it’ll also give the highly athletic Thierry room to play.
It seems like a game that’s ripe for the picking for the Bruins, but don’t count out an Ohio State team if role players are firing on the same night. It’s just something that hasn’t happened yet so far through 10 games.
G- Jacy Sheldon
G- Celeste Taylor
G- Taylor Thierry
F- Cotie McMahon
F- Rebeka Mikulášiková
- Guard Madison Greene played substantially more minutes for Ohio State on Friday, increasing from 3:39 in her first appearance to 21 minutes. Monday is likely to feature Greene closer to the minutes played in Penn State season debut than Friday, because of speed of play and intensity expected.
- Forward Rebeka Mikulášiková hit a three-point shot in two of the first six games of the season. Now, the Slovakian is on a four-game streak with at least one three made, averaging two makes per game.
- Guard Kennedy Cambridge and center Faith Carson are the only two Buckeyes on the injury report, as of publishing.
G- Kiki Rice
G- Charisma Osborne
G- Camryn Brown
F- Angela Dugalic
C- Lauren Betts
- Center Lauren Betts leads the NCAA in field goal percentage, hitting 77.4% of shots taken.
- Guard Kiki Rice’s 6.9 assists per game is best for ninth in the country, and second in the Pac 12 for the 2023-24 season.
- The projected starting lineup’s been used by head coach Cori Close in the past four games, including a 95-78 win over the then-No. 20 Florida State Seminoles.
There’s no doubt that Betts will have a big game on the stat sheet, but the Buckeyes will do a good job going up against the guard play of UCLA. The game will swing the Bruins way at first, especially as Betts gets looks early, but Ohio State will find its footing through the press.
The scarlet and gray will keep the game competitive, but the depth of UCLA will make the difference in this one. Ohio State loses by a possession in the best three-point shooting night for the Buckeyes this season.
How to Watch
Date: Monday, Dec. 18, 2023
Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: Schottenstein Center, Columbus, Ohio
Stream: Fox Sports App
LGHL Prediction: 87-84 UCLA Bruins
White Out the Schott
Following the Friday win over Grand Valley State, the Buckeyes’ social media got going to push people to head to campus Monday for the biggest non-conference game of the season. Included in that is a request for all in attendance to wear their best Ohio State gear that’s also white.
⚪️ WEAR WHITE ⚪️ Monday at 6:30 as we take on #2 UCLA! Link to get tickets in bio! pic.twitter.com/ZTfPpju2d8— Ohio State WBB (@OhioStateWBB) December 16, 2023
So, put the scarlet or gray away for one night, if you so please. Just make sure if you’re sitting court side that you don’t call for the ball, in hopes of confusing the Buckeyes who are also likely to don white and scarlet.