On March 24, 2022, the Ohio State women’s basketball team was the No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. After beating the LSU Tigers convincingly in a rowdy PMAC Arena in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a narrative that the Buckeyes struggled against top teams was silenced. The Scarlet & Gray moved on to Spokane, Washington for a Sweet Sixteen matchup against the No. 3 Texas Longhorns.
The Buckeyes and Longhorns battled for three quarters. Each side hoped for a spot in the Elite Eight, trading blows. After 10 lead changes though, Ohio State stalled. For 3:48 on the game clock, the Buckeyes couldn’t hit a shot, and guard Rori Harmon and the Longhorns capitalized, pushing the lead to 10 points.
Ohio State swapped a cold spell with Texas, but the deficit couldn’t be completely wiped away. The Buckeyes exited the NCAA Tournament in a 66-63 defeat.
Guard Taylor Mikesell did all she could that night to get the win for Ohio State. The first-year transfer who joined the Buckeyes after two years with the Maryland Terrapins and one tough season with the Oregon Ducks went 3-for-4 from deep.
Mikesell led the team with 19 points, turning the ball over only once as the only member of the Scarlet & Gray playing every second of the game.
In the weeks leading up to the NCAA Tournament, talk swirled about Mikesell’s decision: Go professional and be one-and-done at Ohio State or return for a fifth and final NCAA season. After the defeat to Texas,
As Mikesell and guard Jacy Sheldon awaited the media, Sheldon said something to Mikesell.
“Me and Jacy (Sheldon) kind of looked at each other and said ‘We can do something really special,’” said Mikesell. “I just remember her saying “dude you’ve got to come back.’”
It didn’t take long for Mikesell and Sheldon to build a reputation around the Big Ten. Named the “splash sisters,” the two Ohio-born guards lit up opposing offenses. Mikesell with the deep three and floating layup and Sheldon with cutting moves to the basket and defensive pressure.
That conversation between two 21-22 All-B1G First Team selections, guards who led the Buckeyes on and off the court, held weight. The loss was the catalyst that spurred on what came next: A Mikesell return for one final ride with Ohio State.
“I have a feeling in that moment, as a competitor, you hate leaving that bitter taste in your mouth,” said Mikesell. “It kind of clicked that ‘yeah I’m coming back.’”
Mikesell’s decision paid dividends.
The 22-23 season picked up where the last season finished off. Mikesell brought back her on and off-court leadership, and sharpshooting from deep. Sheldon returned possessing even more tenacity on defense as the starting point guard, a role Sheldon only picked up in the previous year following injuries to Madison Greene and Kateri Poole.
Ohio State’s season began by beating the then No. 5 team in the country, the Tennesse Volunteers. A win where the Buckeyes came out of the halftime locker room down eight points, which Mikesell helped wipe away in a quarter.
The guard scored 15 of the Buckeyes’ third-quarter points, hitting 3-for-4 from beyond the arc, outscoring the Volunteers who had 13 total points. In the next game, Sheldon tied a program record, grabbing 11 steals in a win against the Boston College Eagles.
It looked like Ohio State had become a force to be reckoned with, until the end of November. That’s when Sheldon went down with a lower leg injury that led to the guard playing only one of the Buckeyes’ last 22 regular season games.
Less than a month later, Greene, who returned in the 22-23 season after a knee injury kept her completely out of the 21-22 Buckeyes’ Sweet Sixteen run, suffered another season-ending knee injury. However, in part because of Mikesell’s presence, Ohio State continued winning.
Mikesell shifted from a shooting guard to a do-everything guard. Along with redshirt junior Rikki Harris, the two alternated point guard duties for spells of games. Even with the added defensive attention Mikesell received without Sheldon on the court, the guard continued her high productivity.
With a permanent shadow on offense of the opposition’s best defending guard, Mikesell led the Buckeyes scoring 17.2 points in the final 25 games leading into the NCAA Tournament.
While Mikesell’s three-point efficiency lowered slightly from her NCAA-leading numbers throughout the 21-22 season, Mikesell still used her quick release to keep the Buckeyes competing despite a decimation of the point guard role due to injury.
Even as Ohio State went through the struggles of losing to the Iowa Hawkeyes, Indiana Hoosiers, and Maryland Terrapins within a few weeks of each other, Mikesell and other Buckeye leaders helped get the team out of their funk at the right time.
Now, with a Sweet Sixteen game looming for the second straight season and Sheldon back from injury, eyes are set on UConn.
“I think honestly our chemistry is at an all-time high right now. We kinda all got healthy at the right time,” said Sheldon. “I’m excited to continue to see us continue to grow. We’ve played a lot of good games but to be honest I don’t think we’ve played our best game yet.”
That’s what the Buckeyes are hoping for on Saturday.
UConn is a side that features formidable talent and is led by historic coaching. Guard Azzi Fudd, forward Aaliyah Edwards, and head coach Geno Auriemma have the Huskies looking for their 15th Final Four run in a row. This a stark contrast to an Ohio State side hoping to make it to the Final Four for only the second time since their lone trip to the championship game 30 years ago.
While the Scarlet and Gray is hoping to boost their program’s stature to another level, UConn’s been there for 24 years, winning 11 national titles in the process. However, Mikesell’s leveraging that motivation to return, the 2022 Sweet Sixteen defeat, like she does anything: For the betterment of the team.
“I think we’re familiar with the feeling of losing to get to that next level,” said Mikesell. “So definitely want to get past that this point, this year. Just a little bit added just me personally this is my last chance I want to go as far as possible.”
Every game is potentially the last for the graduate senior, Mikesell. A guard who grows through past trials like going through struggles in the Oregon program or losing earlier than the team wanted in March Madness. Mikesell is another piece, an important piece, of a competitive edge Ohio State will use on Saturday.
“This is the most competitive team I’ve ever been on and I think that takes you really far,” said Sheldon. “Our want to compete and our want to go out there and show them everything that we have is making us excited.”
That competitive fire is something the Buckeyes would have less of if Mikesell made a different decision last year.
Mikesell often credits the return to Ohio, and playing for Ohio State, as the best decision she’s made. The Massillon native went from the East Coast all the way out west before returning home again. Now, with the support of Scarlet & Gray fans and with her family sitting in the stands, Mikesell and the Buckeyes return to the Pacific Northwest to create a different ending than the loss against Texas.
“The body of work that we’ve done for two years has been pretty incredible,” said Mikesell. “But we’re obviously not satisfied with where we’re at.”