The Ohio State women’s basketball team had a task in front of them Saturday: Move beyond the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in 30 years. Oh yeah, and against the winningest team in the history of NCAA women’s basketball, the UConn Huskies.
Ohio State pulled off the unimaginable, stopping the UConn’s 15-straight Final Four run two games short, beating the Huskies 73-61 in impressive fashion. Ohio State never lost a lead after going ahead in the second quarter.
Saturday’s game began as the bettors and majority of the public expected, with the Huskies starting off strong. Guard Lou Lopez Sénéchal got UConn going, scoring two shots early to put Ohio State down five. Forward Eboni Walker got the Buckeyes on the board with a drive to the basket for the first Scarlet and Gray points of the game.
However, by the time the first timeout was called, with 5:57 remaining in the first quarter, UConn was up 10-2. That’s due to mistakes made by the Buckeyes and what appeared to be nerves early on.
Forward Cotie McMahon picked up an early offensive foul, and Ohio State started the game shooting 1-for-7 from the floor. Out of the Ohio State timeout though, the Buckeyes looked better.
Ohio State outscored UConn 13-7 for the remainder of the quarter, forcing six turnovers on the Huskies in the process. After the end of the first quarter, an eight-point deficit was only two for the Scarlet and Gray, down 17-15.
Coming into the second quarter, Ohio State kept its foot on the momentum pedal. For the first time in the game, the Buckeyes got a lead, courtesy of four more turnovers against UConn in the first 1:28 of the quarter.
Putting the Scarlet and Gray ahead was McMahon. Although the forward hasn’t been known as a long-range shooter this season, over the past few weeks she’s taken more shots from deep. It was a three from McMahon that put Ohio State ahead, forcing a timeout from coach Geno Auriemma.
From there, it was an improbable run for the Buckeyes. Between the 2:19 mark of the first quarter through the end of the first half, Ohio State outscored the Huskies 27-9. The Buckeyes did it by forcing 18 turnovers on Connecticut, a team that gave up the ball 16.4 times per game this season.
Offensively, the freshman McMahon was the catalyst. Following the three that put the Buckeyes up, she hit a second in a row. McMahon scored 13 points in the second quarter, four more than the Huskies' nine points in the same 10 minutes.
McMahon did it through those two threes but also the usual drive to the paint that Ohio State fans know well. The freshman, and the Buckeyes, also hit from the free-throw line.
Ohio State went 8-for-10 in the first half, compared to only six attempts for UConn, only hitting two.
Defensively, the Buckeyes didn’t only look good in the full-court press but half-court defense. On multiple occasions, passes sent into the paint under the basket, had an Ohio State player ready to try and swat the ball away or challenge the shot. Also, letting UConn take poorer shots. Former Buckeye forward Dorka Juhász went 0-2 from beyond the arc, and longer twos also weren’t going down.
Even though Ohio State was shooting less efficiently than the Huskies, 40.6% to 43.5% in the first half, the Buckeyes had nine more shots overall because of the success of the defensive press.
Entering halftime, the Buckeyes were up 36-26, down slightly from their 13-point lead with 1:03 remaining in the second quarter. That’s even with guard Taylor Mikesell not registering a single point. It looked promising for Ohio State but there was a lot of basketball remaining.
In the third quarter, the two sides swapped shots early. UConn made adjustments, putting more people in the paint to make life more difficult on McMahon, but Ohio State held their lead steady halfway through the quarter.
Most of the Buckeyes’ scoring came from the free-throw line. The Scarlet and Gray got UConn’s star forward Aaliyah Edwards on the bench early in the third quarter with four fouls, taking one of UConn’s many post presences out of the game.
Quiet in the first two and a half quarters was Mikesell. The gets added attention on defense, but the Buckeyes’ star was obviously not 100% healthy after taking a season full of knocks, starting every game and leading OSU with 35.4 minutes per game.
The Buckeyes' 10-point lead shrunk in the third quarter, slightly. UConn hit better shots and trimmed the lead to five, but Ohio State pushed it back to 10 with 30 seconds remaining in the quarter.
UConn star guard Azzi Fudd hit a long two to trim it to seven but forward Taylor Thierry hit a layup before the buzzer to keep the 10-point lead intact. With 10 minutes, remaining the Buckeyes had a lead that could put extra madness in March Madness.
To start the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes outscored UConn 10-4, pushing the lead to 18 points. Even so, no lead is safe against the top teams in the country. Following the scoring surge, Lopez Sénéchal hit a three, and with 5:39 remaining, Ohio State’s lead was down to 13 points.
The Huskies cut the lead to nine, but the Scarlet and Gray kept fighting. McMahon hit a layup and free throw, UConn answered back with a two. Then UConn hit a three to go back within nine.
Ohio State kept fighting and making shots following the Huskies. Ohio State was in the bonus for the last three minutes though, meaning UConn needed to be extra careful if they wanted to reach a record 15-straight Final Fours.
McMahon fouled out of the game with 1:10 remaining, but up 12 points, Ohio State was in an unreachable position. The Buckeyes shock the NCAA world, defeating the UConn Huskies 73-61.
Often times a shooting guard will have a stereotype that they aren’t as tough as say a center or forward. Buckeyes’ Mikesell is tough.
In the Big Ten Tournament, Coach McGuff said that Mikesell’s minutes were less because of managing minutes across three games, but before Saturday’s game, the guard was getting frequent massages at timeouts and sat in the third quarter, visibly emotional.
Every game is potentially Mikesell’s last in the NCAA and fighting through the pain is something most folks don’t always see, but it underlines the passion and intensity she’s brought to the Buckeyes’ program.
For folks who don’t follow the Scarlet & Gray players across social media, they might not know that McMahon is a fan of the series of Grinch movies. On Saturday, McMahon did all she could to be a grinch for the UConn season.
Although the Big Ten Freshman of the Year was in foul trouble, McMahon scored 20 points for Ohio State and was a constant source of emotion and intensity for the Buckeyes. McMahon shot from deep and in the paint and was absolutely crucial in the Buckeyes’ press.
Also, Buckeyes fans get three more years of McMahon.
The Buckeyes’ upset victory puts them in the Elite Eight, played in Seattle on Monday night at 9 p.m. ET. Ohio State will play either the No. 1 seeded Virginia Tech Hokies or have a rematch with the Tennessee Volunteers, who the Scarlet and Gray beat to start the season all the way at the beginning of November.