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Game Preview: No. 18 Ohio State women’s basketball vs. No. 2 Iowa

Can a full strength Buckeyes team do something few have done?

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Championship - Ohio State vs. Iowa Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Last March, in the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State women’s basketball entered a Sunday matchup against the Iowa Hawkeyes for the tournament trophy. The game came a day after the Buckeyes’ historic 25-point comeback against the Indiana Hoosiers, and pitted the reigning 2021-22 regular season co-champions against one another. Iowa took no prisoners, defeating the scarlet and gray 105-72, including a triple-double day for guard Caitlin Clark, her second against Ohio State in the 2022-23 season.

Sunday is the first time the two teams face each other since that unfortunate day for the Buckeyes. After that game, each team had successful NCAA runs, with both making the Seattle Regional’s Elite Eight games, with head coach Kevin McGuff’s side falling in the Elite Eight to the Virginia Tech Hokies, and the Hawkeyes continuing all the way to the National Championship game, where Iowa was on the other side of a one-sided defeat.

Now, the two Big Ten teams face off, both hoping to go further than last year, and it comes at time when one team is looking to continue its outstanding success and the other hoping to prove it deserves the same.


Preview

Both teams enter Sunday’s nationally televised game on winning streaks. For the Hawkeyes, its a 15-game run of dominance. For the Buckeyes, it’s four games motivated by a lackluster performance against rivals, but a hopeful response run showing an Ohio State team that’s building on offseason goals and getting closer to the team it wants to be known for this season.

Coach McGuff’s team’s been winning games with half court defense, a far cry from the run and gun full court press team often coined by the outside looking in. It’s the thing that might push the Buckeyes above the Hawkeyes.

In the 15-game streak for Iowa, there are stories and moments to glean for the Buckeyes. Look back at Jan. 13 against the Indiana Hoosiers. Last season, the Hawkeyes and Hoosiers had entertaining battles down to the last second. The first time the two played this season, on that fateful Saturday night, the Hoosiers were humbled.

Iowa took a team that on paper can compete, and likely beat, anyone in the conference 84-57. The lesson from that game: Teams can’t take a night off against the Hawkeyes, or mentally break under the enormous pressure brought down by superstar guard Caitlin Clark.

The guard, who leads the country in both points scored and assists, is a mere handful of games away from breaking the NCAA women’s basketball scoring record. For the uninitiated, which is hard to find these days as Clark is in State Farm commercials, all over social media and has highlights dominating the college basketball narrative, Clark is known for her big game moments for 40 minutes.

Clark will take three-point shots from beyond NBA range, sometimes from college arena center court logos (on the edge of said logos) but also attract all sorts of defensive attention, gifting teammates with chances at high percentage shots with precision passing.

Benefactors are often in the form of forward Hannah Stuelke and guard Kate Martin, who average the second and third most points per game for the Hawkeyes. That’s 13.2 and 12.3 points respectively, compared to Clark’s 31 points per game.

Stuelke takes the place of now-graduated forward Monika Czinano. The sophomore earned Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year honors last season as a freshman, and is developing into the next Czinano, for as long as Clark stays in the NCAA.

For Sunday’s game, there’s a chance Stuelke doesn’t play. In the Hawkeyes’ home game against the Wisconsin Badgers on Tuesday, Stuelke entered the game listed questionable on the availability report but didn’t appear for head coach Lisa Bluder. Without Stuelke, the less mobil duo of centers in Sharon Goodman and Addison O’Grady.

When it comes to Martin, the guard entered the University of Iowa at the same time as Clark, and the two have a bond that makes it clear that they know each other well. With the graduation of McKenna Warnock last season, Martin’s having a career scoring year for the Hawkeyes, averaging 12.3 points per game, up from 7.7 points in a lesser offensive role. Rebounds for Martin are also up to 6.0 per game, another career season high.

That’s not the entire supporting cast. There’s also four-time All-MAC selection from Central Michigan who transferred to Iowa before last season. The 5-foot-7 guard attacks the basket like she’s 6-foot-3, using superb ball handling to find space and hit layups. Also guard Gabbie Marshall who has days of hitting multiple three-point shots and strong defensive presence.

When Clark is connecting and those players are hitting their shots, days are long for Iowa opponents. The Hawkeyes will run-and-gun, with Clark playing the point guard and shooting guard roles simultaneously. When teams lack composure, games lean heavily in the Hawkeyes’ favor. They aren't unbeatable though.

The other game in the streak, the contest that gives Ohio State more hope, is a 76-73 Hawkeyes win against the Michigan State Spartans in Iowa City. Michigan State used its experience and patience to give Iowa a run for its money. The Hawkeyes needed a long three-point shot from Clark at the final buzzer to pick up the win.

In the 39:59 minutes prior to that shot, the Spartans held Clark’s supporting cast from making an impact. Clark outscored her four fellow starters 40-32, and only had five assists and one rebound. The Spartans frustrated Clark into needing a 40-point game to win, and the Buckeyes have personnel to do the same.

Mainly guards Jacy Sheldon and Celeste Taylor. Last season, Sheldon only played in one of the two Ohio State losses, and that was 17 bench minutes in the Big Ten Tournament final, still returning from a foot injury that kept the guard out since December 2022. In four regular season games between the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes, in Sheldon’s tenure, Ohio State’s only lost once.

Part of the reason for that is Sheldon has the speed and defensive awareness to keep on supporting teammates or Clark herself. Plus, if the Buckeyes’ full court press works early, it’ll be because Sheldon is running it and forcing Iowa mistakes.

With Taylor, defense is her strong suit. In any given game, Taylor is capable of grabbing a few steals, a couple blocks and 10 rebounds. Plus an improving offensive game as she continues adjusting to the Ohio State system after transferring to the Buckeyes in the offseason.

Also, like Sheldon, Taylor’s had positive results against Clark and the Hawkeyes. In Nov. 2021, in the ACC/B1G Challenge, Taylor scored 17 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and added two blocks in a win over Iowa as a member of the Duke Blue Devils.

Taylor is the likeliest candidate to go up against Clark. Both occupy the shooting guard role and the Buckeyes’ guard is the strongest defender on the roster and defense is going to give Ohio State the strongest chance of winning.

Ohio State’s done it this year, holding the 89.9 points per game Spartans to 65 in a home victory, but Iowa will be different.


Ohio State

G- Jacy Sheldon
G- Celeste Taylor
G- Taylor Thierry
F- Cotie McMahon
F- Rebeka Mikulášiková

Lineup Notes

  • Forwards Rebeka Mikulášiková and Taylor Thierry scored 37 of the Buckeyes 84 points, Wednesday at Maryland.
  • Ohio State has started the same starting five in every game but one, when Mikulášiková was out due to illness against the Northwestern Wildcats on Jan. 5.
  • Guards Jacy Sheldon and Celeste Taylor each average 2.2 steals per game this season.

Iowa

G- Molly Davis
G- Caitlin Clark
G- Gabbie Marshall
G- Kate Martin
F- Hannah Stuelke

Lineup Notes

  • Forward Hannah Stuelke, who averages 13.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, missed Iowa’s last game against the Wisconsin Badgers due to a lower body injury. Coach Bluder listed her as questionable before the game.
  • Guard Caitlin Clark is fourth on the list of NCAA all-time leading scorers for women’s basketball. Clark is 221 points behind record holder Kelsey Plum, the former Washington Huskies guard and Kevin McGuff recruit.
  • Guard Molly Davis scored a two-year high 18 points against the Indiana Hoosiers Jan. 13. The guard’s started 17 games this season after transferring from Central Michigan before the 22-23 season.

Prediction

Clark is going to score a lot of points, but the Buckeyes defense will be prepared for the supporting cast of teammates on the court. The scales tip Ohio State’s way because of a strong game by Sheldon.

The guard will lead the Buckeyes in steals and points, leading the defensive press who will have a good game following two half court focused wins against Michigan State and Maryland.

Coach McGuff’s side starts with an interior focus, which gives Ohio State a better shooting game from deep.


How to Watch

Date: Sunday, January 21, 2024
Time: 12:00 p.m. ET
Where: Schottenstein Center, Columbus, Ohio
Television: NBC
Stream: Peacock


LGHL Prediction: 82-77 Ohio State Buckeyes


Selling Out All of the Schott

Last season, the naysayers were out in force when Ohio State announced a sellout of the Jan. 27 game against Iowa. That’s because the upper deck section of the arena was closed, as it is for most women’s basketball games. Although all available seats were sold, it didn’t stop people who have nothing better to do from giving their “well actually” statements.

This year is different, because for this game only, the upper deck is open, making Friday’s announcement by Ohio State of a sellout an exciting prospect for basketball fans. Now, will it be mostly scarlet and gray fans? How much will be Iowa fans or simply people who want to see Caitlin Clark live and in the flesh? That answer and more, Sunday at noon.