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How the Big Ten and Ohio State women bucked history in Sweet Sixteen

After early tournament defeats, the Big Ten enters the Elite Eight with momentum

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Ohio State women’s basketball team caught a lot of people’s attention on Saturday. Playing on network television, the Buckeyes took on the UConn Huskies, a team with a devoted following and 11 NCAA Tournament titles.

In front of an in-arena crowd of over ten thousand, including former UConn and WNBA legend Sue Bird, the Scarlet & Gray went down eight points early. However, with the full court press working and UConn not accounting for forward Cotie McMahon, the Buckeyes pulled away in the second quarter and never looked back.

Head coach Kevin McGuff’s side won 73-61, moving the Scarlet & Gray into the Elite Eight for the first time in 30 years. That win packs a historical punch for not only Ohio State’s program but the Big Ten as a whole.

Entering Saturday, the Buckeyes lost all six previous games against the Huskies, in all competitions. The Big Ten’s record facing UConn in the NCAA Tournament was even worse, losing all 14 games against the Huskies in March Madness.

Ohio State put both streaks to an end, which is no surprise to the Scarlet & Gray. The mysticism and history of the Huskies didn’t apply to the Buckeyes before the game.

“I mean, you don’t, obviously, want to come into a game expecting to lose or kind of even being nervous,” said McMahon, who scored 23 points in the game. “I feel like, we as a team, we weren’t nervous. We looked at it as any other game. I feel like that’s really what helped us, not to feed in — you know, the fact that they are UConn.”

As UConn gave up 18 turnovers in the first half, 25 overall, the Huskies went from the stoic, perennial competitors, to a side struggling to adjust. Ohio State went on a 17-point run that ran from the end of the first quarter through half of the second. The Buckeyes held Connecticut to nine points in that second quarter, and the Huskies never outscored the Buckeyes in any remaining quarter.

The turnovers for Ohio State aren’t anything new, but the win continued a trend for the Buckeyes. Coach McGuff’s side hasn’t lost this season when they’ve forced 20 turnovers in a game. A task that’s more difficult in the upcoming Elite Eight against Virginia Tech. The Hokies have experience this season going up against presses and feature Naismith Player of the Year finalist: Center Elizabeth Kitley.

That game, plus two more for the Big Ten, is another piece of history. The Buckeyes, Iowa Hawkeyes and Maryland Terrapins each extended their stays in Seattle, Washington and Greenville, South Carolina. It’s a group of the only time in NCAA women’s basketball history that three teams represent the Big Ten in the NCAA Tournament regional finals.

Now, each of the three teams hope to move into the Final Four, next weekend in Dallas, Texas.

“This has been an incredible season for the Big Ten. It’s as deep and as talented as it’s ever been since I’ve been here,” said coach McGuff. “So I’m not surprised that we have people who have advanced. And I think one thing in particular, we have teams that can really score the ball in the Big Ten.”

The Big Ten conference’s three programs is tied with the ACC for the most teams in the Elite Eight, with the SEC rounding out the remaining two spots. Out of the Big Ten’s three games, Iowa faces the Louisville Cardinals and the Maryland Terrapins face the No. 1 overall seeded South Carolina Gamecocks.

It’s a tough road for each of the three teams but that’s what to expect when there are only eight teams left in March Madness. Should any of the three sides win their Elite Eight matchup, it’ll represent the first time a Big Ten team made it to the Final Four since the 2015 Maryland Terrapins did it in the program’s first year in the conference.

Should two or all three make it, it’ll mark the first time multiple Big Ten schools represented the conference in the national semifinal since 1993. That season, the Iowa Hawkeyes and Ohio State Buckeyes battled in the semifinal, with the Scarlet & Gray losing by two points in the final to basketball legend Sheryl Swoopes and Texas A&M.

Never has the conference had three teams in the Final Four. It’s a tall task, but this March Madness especially shows that nothing is impossible.