After beginning the season 4-0 against ranked opponents, the Ohio State women’s basketball team is on a four-game losing streak against teams in the Associated Press Top-25 rankings. On Thursday, the Scarlet & Gray get a minor break against the top teams in the country when they face the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Will it be another outlier victory, a shocking upset, or can the Buckeyes use the game to get on the right track in the final week of the regular season?
On Monday, head coach Kevin McGuff’s team suffered a 24-point defeat to the No. 2 Indiana Hoosiers at home. With guard Jacy Sheldon and forward Rebeka Mikulášiková out, the Buckeyes looked disjointed for all but the the first few minutes of the game and a spell in the third quarter.
Both likely starters when healthy are day-to-day. For Sheldon it’s the same slow return to action, preparing the Dublin, Ohio native for what coach McGuff calls the “stretch run.” Thursday is a good candidate for the start of that stretch run with only three games remaining in the regular season, and now a possibility of only five remaining games this entire campaign including at least one Big Ten and NCAA Tournament game.
Mikulášiková was out in a game-time decision by the coaching and training staff for Monday’s game against Indiana. On Wednesday, Feb. 8, the Slovakian forward took a hit on a shot, landing awkwardly on her ankle and suffering a high ankle sprain.
With the forward out, substitute forward Eboni Walker started against Indiana and had the strongest game of any Buckeye in the defeat. The Syracuse transfer had 12 points on top of leading Ohio State with 11 rebounds and four assists.
A lot of the same injury questions will continue to follow the Buckeyes as they travel to State College, Pennsylvania on Thursday.
Penn State is a team who’s shown improvement this season from last year. The Nittany Lions ended the 21-22 season with an overall record of 11-18 and this season still sit above the .500 mark at 13-12. However, they sit at 4-10 in conference play, one game shy of their total number of Big Ten wins last season, but this season could be different with only a couple possessions going their way.
In three conference games this season, all as the away side, the Blue & White lost to opponents in overtime. It began when conference play began on Dec. 3. Penn State and the Minnesota Golden Gophers went two overtimes before Minnesota edged the visitors 98-96. The second came against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, and most recently Sunday against the Michigan State Spartans.
Penn State’s showed promise this year, and considering how well the Spartans played against the Buckeyes this year, the Nittany Lions could make Ohio State sweat.
Leading the Lions is guard Makenna Marisa. The dynamic two-way guard is in her senior season following a 21-22 season that ended with Marisa on the First Team All-B1G, a bright spot in an otherwise tough year for the Nittany Lions.
This season, Marisa’s continuing the stellar play. The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania guard averages 18 points and 4.4 assists per game, good for fifth and seventh in the conference, respectively. Although Marisa’s scoring is down over four points per game, the guard is giving up the ball less than she ever has in four seasons and already matched a career high in steals (47) and shooting efficiency (35.9%).
Those shots come from deep and runs to the basket. Marisa’s point guard play is what makes the Nittany Lions a potentially dangerous opponent, especially for an Ohio State team reeling from recent poor results. Last season, the Buckeyes held Marisa to a season low 10 points, but this season Marisa isn’t alone.
The future star for Penn State is freshman Shay Ciezki. Out of Lancaster, New York, the 5-foot-7 Ciezki has started all but one game for the Lions and sits behind Marisa in just about every offensive category.
Ciezki leads the Lions in shooting from deep, hitting 40.2% of her three-point attempts. Overall, the guard averages 11.3 points per game, a clear replacement for Marisa after her days at State College are done. Growing in the program with Ciezki is guard Leilani Kapinus.
Playing as a three on the court is Kapinus. The guard has two double-doubles in her first season as a redshirt freshman, but four games where she’s grabbed double-digit rebounds. Kapinus is comparable to Ohio State’s Taylor Thierry in how she makes herself available for rebounds, sitting 13th in the conference with 160 rebounds in only her first season.
Kapinus and Thierry will be an interesting match-up in the paint between two guards who play a lot like forwards. Even if Thierry does have to play more forward in a five-role if Mikulášiková misses a second straight game.
- If Sheldon plays, it’ll be only her second time this calendar year that she’s competed for the Buckeyes.
- Thierry’s eight points and two rebounds against Indiana is the first time since Jan. 5 that the guard hasn’t scored at least 10 rebounds and grabbed five rebounds in a game.
- Cotie McMahon leads all freshmen with five Big Ten Freshmen of the Week honors this season, winning her fifth on Monday.
- Transfer guard Taniyah Thompson, previously of East Carolina, has started the last five games after starting no games since the season opener in November.
- Forward Alexa Williamson is the sixth player for the Nittany Lions, averaging 6.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game off the bench.
- Against Michigan State on Sunday, Marisa had 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
It’s hard to see the Nittany Lions beating the Buckeyes, even with injuries holding Ohio State down a bit over the past few weeks.
The Scarlet & Gray will play another game like they did against the Minnesota Golden Gophers last week or the Wisconsin Badgers in the week prior. It’ll be the Buckeyes taking it to Penn State from the jump and throughout four quarters.
Thierry will return to her close to double-double form, and freshman Cotie McMahon will lead Ohio State in scoring.
If Sheldon doesn’t play, it seems likely to be her last game watching from the bench, with matchups against the No. 12 Michigan Wolverines and No. 8 Maryland Terrapins on the calendar for the final week of the season.
How to Watch
Date: Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: Bryce Jordan Center, State College, Pennsylvania
LGHL Prediction: 87-67 Ohio State Buckeyes
Coach McGuff Honored
It isn’t only McMahon or guard Taylor Mikesell receiving applause of late for the Buckeyes. Because of the 19-0 start to the season, and much of the season in the top-5 of the NCAA rankings, head coach Kevin McGuff was named to the late season watch list for the Werner Ladder Naismith Coach of the Year award.
With the recent form of the Buckeyes, it would be a surprise for the 10th year Ohio State coach to win the honor, but its an impressive list to be part of for a team who’s impressed for much of the 22-23 season.