Saturday afternoon, the Ohio State women’s basketball team shocked the world on network television. In the Buckeyes’ first game on ABC this season, head coach Kevin McGuff’s side started slow, but after it got ahead it never looked back.
Following the 73-61 Buckeyes victory, in the post game press conference, legendary UConn head coach Geno Auriemma addressed numerous topics. Auriemma was savvy in talking about the end of UConn’s Final Four streak, discussed his group of players, like all coaches do, but had an interesting answer when asked about Ohio State forward Cotie McMahon.
“A lot of times in these games the players that get all the attention throughout the season, the key players on your team that everybody focuses on, and then invariably it’s somebody else that steps up and ends up being the difference-maker in the game, right?”
That’s from 11-time NCAA championship-winning coach Geno Auriemma. The coach who’s led players like Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Maya Moore to 34 years of out of this world success. The coach who’s Storrs, Connecticut arena was a stopping point for anyone aspiring to collegiate, or even olympic, glory.
There’s an argument to be made that the UConn machine has scouts, other coaches and staff who have their hand in preparation. It’s not Auriemma’s job alone, but how does a coach of that stature not know McMahon?
UConn knows McMahon now.
McMahon was the pendulum swinging momentum in the Buckeyes’ favor on Saturday. The forward led Ohio State with 23 points, two shy of game-leading guard Lou Lopez Sénéchal’s 25 points on the day.
Playing 33 minutes, slightly lower than usual due to foul trouble, the Centerville, Ohio native made life difficult on both sides of the ball. Defensively, McMahon had two steals, didn’t give up on plays and closed down shooters all game.
Offensively, the freshman wrecked havoc on the Huskies defense. McMahon had 18 points in the first half, eight in the run of play on layups, four from free throws in her relentless pursuit of the basket and six from beyond the arc.
It wasn’t until the second half that UConn adjusted, putting multiple bodies in the paint to close down lanes. The North Carolina Tar Heels had to adjust the same way in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.
Now, there can be some grace given to the Tar Heels who had a day to prepare for the Buckeyes. Auriemma and the Huskies had four days. That’s four days to watch film, practice at home and prepare.
In those four days, the Freshman of the Year in a top NCAA Power Five conference, a six-time freshman of the week, a player who averaged a double-double in the Big Ten tournament didn’t warrant enough attention for the head coach of the UConn Huskies.
Let that sink in.
It’s part of the reason the Huskies are now watching the NCAA Tournament on television for the last week of March Madness action.
From Ohio State’s viewpoint, it did wonders. McMahon had the space to impose her will in the first 20 minutes of the game, and the Buckeyes’ press did a good job of distracting UConn.
McMahon credits the same thing that Auriemma ended up focusing on, following his comments about the freshman’s “surprise” performance.
“I feel like that’s usually how our team is guarded, kind of focused on our shooters,” said McMahon. “It gives me the ability to drive and create shots for myself, but not only create shots for myself, for my teammates as well.”
The freshman did that, with two assists on the night. It was slightly under the forward’s 2.4 assists per game average, but the press worked so well that whoever got the ball had the best chance of scoring.
McMahon has a point though. For two seasons now, talk surrounding the Buckeyes goes to the “splash sisters” in guards Taylor Mikesell and Jacy Sheldon. Saturday, McMahon hit as many threes as Sheldon and Mikesell combined.
A reason for this could be the increasing parity in NCAA women’s basketball. McMahon, ranked No. 23 in the country by ESPN, isn’t in the same world that UConn looks at in their recruiting. Even though McMahon led Team USA in the 2022 FIBA WU18 Americas Championship and sits second on the Buckeyes in scoring.
For folks who don’t follow the Buckeyes across social media, McMahon outperformed the Huskies wearing bright green shoes. It’s a reference to her favorite Christmas movie: “The Grinch.” Not one single version of “The Grinch” but all of them.
While the freshman isn’t in the market for stealing family’s holiday celebrations, for one afternoon in the NCAA Tournament, she was the forward who stole UConn’s season.