The Ohio State women’s basketball team did the unthinkable on Saturday when they beat the No. 2 Indiana Hoosiers. A 24-point comeback against a top team in the nation doesn’t happen all the time, or in the case of the Big Ten — ever.
As great as the Buckeyes’ performance was in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, the job for Ohio State isn’t done. It continues Sunday night when the No. 7 Iowa Hawkeyes and No. 14 Ohio State face off in the tournament finale.
Before Saturday, it felt like there was a clear gap between the top three teams in the Big Ten, arguably the strongest conference in the nation with the most top 16 NCAA committee teams with five.
The Indiana Hoosiers, Maryland Terrapins, and Hawkeyes all showed the Buckeyes they were on another level, with the three sides going 5-0 against Ohio State in the regular season. After Saturday’s win, it looks like Buckeyes don’t care what those outside of the program think.
Using a strong inbounding press in the second half, Ohio State looked like the team they were in the first month of the season. The same team that beat the ranked Tennessee Volunteers and Louisville Cardinals with the help of inducing panic in opponents with their defensive tactics.
Against Iowa though, the Buckeyes have a lot going against them.
The most obvious is the Hawkeyes’ two offensive leaders: forward Monika Czinano and Naismith Player of the Year favorite, guard Caitlin Clark. Lately, though, that’s expanded.
“It’s just so tricky,” said head coach Kevin McGuff following Iowa’s win in the second semifinal on Saturday. “You’ve got to make some decisions because if you only focus on Clark and Czinano, then you can see what happened today and everyone can beat you.”
For Iowa, that means big games by guard/forward McKenna Warnock and guard Gabbie Marshall. On Saturday, against the Maryland Terrapins, Warnock and Marshall scored 21 apiece. Combined, the two went 10-for-21 from deep, with Marshall specifically hitting seven, her season high.
Marshall, who started the year slowly, has picked up the pace of late. In the guard’s last seven games, she averages 57.9% from beyond the three-point line. Ohio State can’t simply prepare for the only two powerhouses.
“We’ll mix it up and try a couple different things,” said McGuff. “I think the last time Iowa got into a great rhythm offensively, so I don’t think we can plan on doing the same thing all night.”
Sunday could look like Saturday. Against Indiana, the Buckeyes had freshman forward Cotie McMahon intercepting passes sent into Hoosiers forward Mackenzie Holmes. Also, in the second half when forward Rebeka Mikulášiková picked up four fouls, the Buckeyes went small, creating a quicker lineup that still had players like forward/guard Taylor Thierry and guard Emma Shumate who can make defensive plays under the basket by blocking away shots.
Even so, stopping or holding Clark back is one of the most difficult things to do in college basketball. Put single coverage on Clark and she finds the space to shoot, sometimes from over five feet away from the three-point arc. Double-team and she finds Czinano, Marshall, or a number of other Hawkeyes who can cause damage.
Also, Clark is the most confident player in the country.
“I think our confidence level of what we have right now is really good,” said Clark following their victory over Maryland on Saturday. “We’ll welcome any defense that any team wants to bring at us.”
Clark said that with a smile on her face, a confident smile from a person who regularly backs up what they say.
Even with Iowa sitting as the favorites entering Sunday, it by no means has to be a repeat of the 83-72 defeat Ohio State suffered in Columbus on Jan. 23. The Hawkeyes are a team the Buckeyes can beat.
This year, Ohio State was humbled by Iowa at home. The Buckeyes were 19-0 and regardless of what was said to the media, it’s hard to imagine that not getting into the heads of players. When Iowa beat Ohio State, the Buckeyes went on to lose four games overall in the two weeks that followed. That’s created a different Scarlet & Gray.
“I think we just regained some confidence that was probably eroded a little bit from some of those losses. That’s part of it,” said McGuff. “Your confidence, your psyche’s a big part of it and I think we’re in a much better place now.”
On top of the psyche, Ohio State’s beaten Iowa in recent history, Jan. 31, 2022. In the game, Mikulášiková and guards Taylor Mikesell and Jacy Sheldon led the Buckeyes in a 92-88 victory. It’s a game that’ll feel similar to Sunday too, based on the crowd watching.
Iowa University’s campus is four hours south of Minneapolis. All weekend, the Hawkeyes have had consistently the largest crowds. While that gives the team with the support a morale boost, it also motivates opponents to try and quiet them.
Speaking of Sheldon, the guard has come back and made an immediate impact. Sheldon’s played a +10 and +20 performance in her two return games. The last time Iowa and Ohio State competed, Sheldon was injured, taking away depth from the Buckeyes.
- Against Indiana, both Cotie McMahon and Taylor Thierry had double-doubles, the first time both Buckeyes have accomplished the feat this season
- Guard Rikki Harris scored 13 points and had six assists versus Indiana, but most importantly she created key steals in the fourth quarter, not to mention the game-winning free throw
- Emma Shumate’s 20 minutes is nine more than her season average of minutes, with McGuff opting for the guard as the second guard off the bench after Sheldon
- The starting five is consistent for Iowa, playing through both this season and last season
- Freshman forward Hannah Stuelke won B1G Sixth Player of the Year this season, averaging 7.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game
- Clark had a triple-double the last time she faced Ohio State, scoring 28 points with 15 assists and 10 rebounds
Ohio State will have its hands full but play a more consistent game than it did against Indiana on Saturday. Expect McMahon to attack the basket more, with the freshman working alongside Thierry to guard Clark, unless coach McGuff has a new tactic he’s unleashing in the tournament.
Clark will have a big game, but the Buckeyes will make it more difficult on Czinano. Marshall won’t have a 21-point game as she did against Maryland, playing a more down-to-Earth performance.
It’ll be another close game that will go down to the team who makes the fewest mistakes.
How to Watch
Date: Sunday, March 5, 2023
Time: 5 p.m. ET
Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Stream: ESPN App
LGHL Score Prediction: 88-87 Ohio State Buckeyes
One Week Out
If there was any doubt that the Buckeyes were a top-16 team in the NCAA Tournament, it was erased on Saturday.
On March 12, at 8:00 p.m. ET on ESPN, the NCAA announces the tournament field for the 2023 NCAA Tournament. After defeating the No. 2 and No. 16 team in the NCAA’s latest top-16 release, no result on Sunday seems like it’ll be enough to klick the Buckeyes out of a spot that allows them to host the first two rounds of the tournament.
However, a win could push Ohio State to a higher seed. Currently, they are in as a No. 3 seed, currently No. 12 in the NCAA top-16 ranking.