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No. 2 UCLA holds off No. 13 Ohio State 77-71 in exciting finish

Buckeyes fall to a second future Big Ten team, this time against the Bruins

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 18 Women’s - UCLA at Ohio State Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Monday night, the Ohio State women’s basketball team welcomed Los Angeles’ own UCLA Bruins to the Schottenstein Center. Outside the arena, the near-freezing temperatures and snow accumulating likely wasn’t a welcome sight to the future Big Ten Bruins side.

However, inside the arena, the Bruins didn’t need much time to thaw. UCLA beat the Buckeyes but took advantage of a 22-point lead in the fourth quarter. Ohio State responded but still suffered its first home loss of the year 77-71.

The start of the game couldn’t have gone any better for head coach Kevin McGuff’s Buckeyes. After UCLA won the jump, the defense closed in on UCLA center Lauren Betts to force a turnover on the first Bruins offensive possession. Then, guard/forward Taylor Thierry put on a show.

Thierry hit the first points of the game, a layup down the middle of the lane, and followed it up in a big way. First, a three-point make on the next possession. Then, Thierry intercepted the inbound UCLA pass and found guard Jacy Sheldon quickly to put Ohio State up seven points after two minutes.

That forced a UCLA timeout on a momentous occasion for the Buckeyes. Ohio State did what the UConn Huskies and Florida State Seminoles couldn’t do: Have a lead against the Bruins. Although, it was far too early to call it a Buckeyes win.

UCLA isn’t the No. 2 team in the country for nothing. The Bruins battled back to tie the game at 10 apiece. It happened in the paint. Of UCLA’s first 10 points, eight came in the paint and half came from Betts. Heading to the bench with four minutes remaining in the quarter, Betts already had four points and four rebounds.

Ohio State’s energy level to begin the game dipped at times in the first quarter. With Betts out, the Buckeyes couldn’t capitalize and the game stayed within a possession for the rest of the opening 10 minutes. Guard Madison Greene also came in with 2:51 remaining and had an impressive pass that almost gave the Scarlet and Gray the lead at the end of the quarter.

Greene, going up against Betts, used her smaller stature to get low to the ground and pass the ball in to guard Celeste Taylor. The final layup missed the mark, going for a tough layup from under the basket. Both sides stayed locked, heading into the second quarter tied 17-17.

The Buckeyes pushed their lead back up to start the quarter, thanks to the defensive effort of forward Rebeka Mikulášiková. The forward, going up one-on-one against Betts, intercepted a pass using strong positioning on the perimeter. That turned into a break for Sheldon, who followed the layup with a three-point shot. Then Mikulášiková got into the scoring fun, spinning near the basket and hitting a shot with two defenders pressing.

From there, Ohio State’s shooting slowed. The Buckeyes’ five-point lead dwindled into the first UCLA lead of the game, but the timing of a media timeout gave Coach McGuff the opportunity to work with his team. It didn’t help. UCLA came out of the timeout continuing its run, up to 10 points with 4:11 remaining in the half. A frustrated McGuff called a timeout, yelling at the Buckeyes as they returned to the bench.

Mikulášiková broke the run with a three-point shot in the corner, trimming the Buckeyes' deficit to four. On the other end of the court though, Mikulášiková picked up another foul for Ohio State. This time, seemingly by standing and raising her arms as Betts closed in towards the rim.

The game looked like it could begin to drift away from the Buckeyes, but timely shots kept it close. Guard Rikki Harris and Thierry each hit layups to avoid a double-digit deficit. Thierry’s attempt at the end of the quarter cut UCLA’s lead down to six points in a half of basketball where the Buckeyes had eight fewer foul shot attempts and were outrebounded 22-13.

UCLA tried getting off a last-second heave at the buzzer but was both late and off-target. Even so, the Bruins took a 37-31 lead into halftime, with the Buckeyes needing to find the intensity from the start of the game to try and turn things back in their favor.

Ohio State came out with more energy, but it didn’t correlate to scoring. Taylor scored four early points, but that was it. However, on the Bruins side, everything was working in their favor, going on an 11-4 run in the first three-and-a-half minutes of the half. That ballooned UCLA’s lead up to 13 points.

The lead for UCLA kept growing and growing though. Ohio State allowed 10 points off turnovers in the third quarter and the Buckeyes shot 28.6% from the field. It was a bad combination that made a tough comeback nearly impossible as UCLA grew its lead to 21 points, until Sheldon, who scored the final six points for OSU in the third quarter, hit a three near the end of the quarter.

There was no momentum from that shot though as the Buckeyes picked up where it left off in the third quarter, giving up two turnovers in the first minute and twenty seconds of the fourth quarter. UCLA increased its lead to 22 points off those giveaways. All that it felt like the Buckeyes had to play for was pride as the seconds ticked away.

Math wasn’t on Ohio State’s side. Even though the scarlet and gray rebounded from those early quarter turnovers, going on a 9-2 run, it still only cut the Buckeyes deficit down to 15 points. It felt like a potential comeback at moments, but the minutes on the game clock weren’t there.

Coach McGuff’s side looked like a different team. With 4:41 left in the game, the deficit was down to 10 points for the Buckeyes. An eight-point run, courtesy of Thierry and Sheldon, gave not only the team but the fans in the crowd hope for what would have been the most miraculous comeback for this side.

The momentum stalled though. Both teams’ scoring slowed, which fed right into the hands of UCLA who decided to slow the game down. Despite Ohio State’s best final-quarter efforts, the Bruins came away with the 77-71 victory.

Sheldon and Thierry led the Buckeyes on the night with 30 and 20 points, while no other Ohio State player hit double-digit scoring in the loss.

Paint Protected

Usually a strength for the Buckeyes, especially sophomore forward Cotie McMahon, the paint was heavily guarded on Monday night. While Betts did have a season-high in fouls, not hard to do when the center has only had one per game in six of nine UCLA outings, most attempts under the basket turned into a block for the 6-foot-7 big.

McMahon struggled with less room to work, scoring seven points in the defeat, and six of those from beyond the arc. It wasn’t only the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year struggling. UCLA doubled Ohio State’s interior points. Betts led the way in that category, scoring 17 points on the night.

Dangerous Big Ten Future

Monday was the second defeat for the Buckeyes against a future Big Ten squad. The start of the season, back on Nov. 6, featured freshman guard Juju Watkins and the USC Trojans defeated Ohio State 83-74. Then, the Bruins, led by four dynamic sophomores, gave the Buckeyes more than they could handle.

It shows that the Big Ten isn’t only getting stronger next year when the two Los Angeles sides join the conference, but they also have the ability to shoot straight to the top of the conference. It’s not only Ohio State that should be worried.

What’s Next

The Buckeyes have one more game before the holiday weekend, a Friday matinee against the Belmont Bruins at 1 p.m. ET. It features a rare coach vs. daughter situation between Coach McGuff and guard Kilyn McGuff. It’s the first time the Ohio State coach coaches against one of his children at the NCAA level.

It’ll also be a competitive contest against a Belmont team that’s surprised teams over the past two seasons. Especially in the 2022 NCAA Tournament, when the Bruins defeated the Oregon Ducks in the first round of March Madness, in double overtime.