The last time the Ohio State women’s basketball team was competing on the court, it was at the final buzzer of a Jan. 24 game against the then No. 7 Maryland Terrapins. After forward Cotie McMahon got the ball into the basket, potentially sending the game to overtime, the crowd waited for a video review.
It didn’t go the Buckeyes way.
Ohio State has waited a week to get back onto the court to make up for that defeat, and it comes Friday in the Big Ten Tournament. Their opponent is a team the Scarlet & Gray is familiar with this season: The Michigan Wolverines.
Feb. 20, Ohio State traveled Ann Arbor for their second game of the season against Michigan. It was unlike the Scarlet & Gray’s New Year’s Eve matchup against the Maize & Blue. Instead of a knockdown, drag out, defensive battle, each team had moments where offense opened up.
Ohio State point guard Rikki Harris led the Buckeyes with 23 points and seven steals, and she wasn’t alone in contributing. Guards Taylor Mikesell and Taylor Thierry combined for 27 points coming from in and out of the paint, and the Scarlet & Gray picked up the 74-61 victory.
In the end though, it was the full court press that gave Michigan problems, forcing 27 turnovers. Only Wolverines guard Leigha Brown could muster up a consistent offensive performance, to put it lightly.
Brown scored a career high 36 points, adding nine rebounds too. Unfortunately for Michigan, that was over half the team’s points, with the bench providing zero points and starting forward Cameron Williams playing just nine minutes all game. Also, Michigan’s second leading scorer, guard Laila Phelia, missed the game due to injury.
Because of the Ohio State victory, it cemented the Buckeyes as the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, meaning coach Kevin McGuff’s side wouldn’t enter the annual single-elimination tournament until the third round. That also meant a potential rematch against Michigan, who sat No. 5 with the defeat to the Buckeyes.
On Thursday, Michigan played that extra game — a round two match-up against the Penn State Nittany Lions who stunned the home Minnesota Golden Gophers in the first round on Wednesday.
Even though the Nittany Lions entered the tournament losing six games in a row, against the Wolverines they pushed the higher ranked Michigan side to the brink, almost stunning Ohio State’s rivals. They way Penn State did it bodes well for Ohio State on Friday.
Like Feb. 20’s Buckeyes win, the Nittany Lions played a strong pressing game against Michigan, losing 63-61. Penn State forced 20 turnovers, and that was with Phelia returning from injury to score 13 points in 21 minutes.
Another positive for Ohio State from their first game against Michigan to the second is improved post defense. On Dec. 31, Williams and forward Emily Kiser each had a double-double with points and rebounds. The two combined for 13 points and seven rebounds combined last month.
That was the result of stronger defense by forward Eboni Walker, starting for the injured Rebeka Mikulášiková. Also, energetic rebounding by McMahon, leading all Buckeyes with eight rebounds. Continue that work in the paint and it takes away a key piece of the Wolverines game plan.
On top of better defending, the faster Ohio State can calm down tournament starting nerves, the better chance the Buckeyes have for their third win against the Wolverines this season. With Phelia back though, the focus on an injury return shifts to Ohio State’s key guard injury for Jacy Sheldon.
Wednesday, coach McGuff had no definitive update on Sheldon, who’s still listed as day-to-day, playing only one game since Nov. 30, Ohio State’s lopsided 36-point defeat to the Maryland Terrapins on Feb. 5.
A positive note is that Sheldon did warm-up and prepare for practice with the team on Wednesday. If there’s a time to get the guard back into the game, it’s in the Big Ten Tournament. Should Sheldon not play, it’ll be interesting to see if she plays at all for the rest of the postseason.
- If Sheldon doesn’t play, Harris has played well against the Wolverines this season, averaging 18.5 points per game.
- Walker averages 6.25 rebounds per game in her four-game starting streak to end the season.
- Although Mikulášiková’s minutes are down coming off the bench, returning from injury, her 13 points against Maryland on Friday were her most in nine games.
- Phelia didn’t start against the Nittany Lions on Thursday, but will still have an impact, playing more minutes than starter Jordan Hobbs who filled in for the guard since Jan. 29.
- Kiser and Phelia led Michigan against Penn State with 13 points a piece.
- Of the 27 turnovers by the Maize & Blue in their last outing against the Buckeyes, 13 came from Ohio State steals.
This is going to be a heated game. Not only because of the rivalry but adding the tension that already comes with a tournament game. Michigan will get going strong, after playing the day before and having time to work out the pregame jitters.
Even so, Ohio State will compete in a close game. Guard Taylor Mikesell will get some early three-point shots and give room to her teammates, unless Michigan goes back to double-teaming the guard like they did in Ann Arbor. In that case, Mikesell will flip the facilitator switch.
Calls weren't going McMahon or Thierry’s way against the Maize & Blue last time out. There will be more consistent calls in this game as the two push for position in the paint, and Ohio State will hit closer to their average after going 8-for-20 from the free throw line.
How to Watch
Date: Friday, March 3, 2023
Time: Approximately 3:00 p.m. ET (starts 20 minutes after Indiana vs. Michigan State)
Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Stream: Fox Sports app with a BTN subscription
LGHL Score Prediction: 70-65 Ohio State Buckeyes
Win and Move On
Should Ohio State beat the Wolverines, their tournament would continue on Saturday, March 4 for the first of two semifinal games of the day. The Buckeyes’ opponent would be either the Michigan State Spartans or the No. 1 tournament seed, the Indiana Hoosiers.
Although the Hoosiers are a favorite to win, Michigan State beat Indiana back on Dec. 29. However, the crimson of Indiana didn’t have guard Grace Berger in that road defeat to the Spartans, making a potential repeat upset a steeper mountain to climb.