Watch a basketball game and it’s no surprise that some guards get looked at differently than others. It’s the shooting guards. Their primary role is to get open and make shots. Simple enough, right?
Ohio State’s guard is Taylor Mikesell. The Oregon Ducks transfer came to the Buckeyes before the start of the 2021-22 season. Arriving in a year that no one around the Big Ten would be shocked by a dip in success in Columbus, Ohio.
The Buckeyes came out of a sanctioned 2020-21 season featuring no postseason play only to lose two starting forwards to the UConn Huskies and Texas A&M in Dorka Juhász and Aaliyah Patty. Making matters worse, before the start of the 21-22 season, guard Madison Greene suffered a preseason knee injury, leaving Ohio State down a point guard.
Instead of wallowing, Mikesell and fellow guard Jacy Sheldon led the Buckeyes to a share of the Big Ten regular season championship and an NCAA run that left the Scarlet & Gray three points short of moving into the Elite Eight.
In that 21-22 season, Mikesell shot 47.5% from beyond the arc, sometimes eclipsing 50% throughout the latter months of the season. With efficiency like that, it’s easy to put Mikesell into that shooting guard box, but the 2022-23 season shattered the narrative to pieces.
On Saturday, against the UConn Huskies in the NCAA Tournament, Mikesell had a quiet first half, scoring no points on 0-for-3 shooting. Not what anyone who’s watched Ohio State would expect in a half where the Buckeyes led UConn by 10 points.
Before the game, and on most timeouts, Mikesell received treatment by way of a massage by Ohio State’s training staff. For weeks, Mikesell’s received treatment on the court, whether it’s before or during the game.
After playing every minute of the first half, 4:43 into the third quarter Mikesell came out of the game. On the guard’s face was visible pain. Standing in the team timeout, overcome with emotion, Mikesell sat for the first time in the game.
It was a rare look at a player who’s been worn down from the trials of the 22-23 Ohio State season. A glimpse at a player who’s done everything asked by head coach Kevin McGuff.
As Sheldon went down following a lower leg injury in November and Greene suffered a season-ending knee injury on the same knee in December, Mikesell stepped up. Playing not only the two-guard role but moments at point guard.
When the number of available guards shrunk, the pressure on Mikesell grew. Instead of finding open looks like Mikesell was accustomed to in the last year and a half, defenses honed in on the guard. No matter where Mikesell went, there was a shadow in the form of the best defending guard on the opposition.
Saturday, Mikesell appeared to feel every one of the 1,240 minutes she played this season. A total eclipsing everyone in the Big Ten, 45 more minutes than even Iowa Hawkeyes indispensable guard Caitlin Clark.
“We’ve asked so much of Taylor and she’s done everything you could possibly do to help this program,” said head coach Kevin McGuff. “So we’ve worn her out a little bit. So she was obviously a little worn out today.”
Mikesell went to the bench with 5:17 left in the third quarter. Emotion overcoming the face of the graduate senior who's potentially playing her last college game every time the Buckeyes step onto the court.
The Huskies responded, getting within five points of the Buckeyes. After 1:29 passed on the game clock, Mikesell returned. How did the guard respond? Mikesell hit a jumper. Sheldon followed it up with a three. Ohio State was back to a double-digit lead.
“She’s a warrior, man,” said Sheldon. “I mean, she will run through a brick wall for any of us, even if she’s on one leg. So she’s as tough as it gets.”
In obvious pain, certain basketball moves looked more painful than normal. For example, when going around a screen, Mikesell ran into the defender and her face winced in pain.
Ohio State went into the fourth quarter with a 10-point lead, Mikesell scoring only four points through the first 30 minutes. Mikesell made up for the quieter scoring in other ways.
“I thought she was really good on the defensive end, just found ways to contribute,” said McGuff.
At the start of the fourth quarter, and UConn hoping to get off on the right foot in the quarter, Mikesell made the uphill climb even steeper. In the first seven seconds, Mikesell hit a three to put the Buckeyes up 13 points. A deficit the Huskies only ever cut to nine points.
Mikesell ended the game with nine points, far below the 17.2 points the guard averages a game. An average that leads the Buckeyes this season.
Ohio State didn’t need that from Mikesell on Saturday. They got more from the guard. They got someone who defended well, pulled away the attention of the defense to let freshman forward Cotie McMahon score 23 points and fellow splash sister Sheldon score 17 of her own, and lifted the play of those around her.
“She’s an incredible person, a great teammate, and she’s tough as nails,” said Sheldon.
Don’t expect that to stop now, with the Buckeyes' next test Monday in the Elite Eight. The first Elite Eight Mikesell’s seen in her five NCAA careers and the first any Buckeye has seen since 1993.