The Ohio State women captured the basketball narrative after defeating then-No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes on Sunday. As exciting as it was for the 18,660 fans in attendance, and the countless others online sharing their thoughts on the game, the collision and more, the Buckeyes move on to the next game.
It’s no clearcut matchup either, with the scarlet and gray going to Illinois to face the orange of the Illinois Fighting Illini. Will Illinois play like the team who went up 17 points on the Buckeyes last January, or the sub-.500 team currently on the Big Ten standings?
All appearances of the Fighting Illini give the idea of a sophomore slump for head coach Shauna Green. The 6-year former Dayton Flyers head coach joined the Big Ten last season, taking a normally bottom half of the standings Illinois team to the NCAA Tournament — its first time participating in March Madness since 2003.
This year, the Illini started as the No. 23 team in the country, played the No. 14 Notre Dame Fighting Irish to within 10 points at the final buzzer, but also lost by nearly 40 points to the Michigan Wolverines. Sitting at 8-9, Illinois looks like an enigma, but performances are changing and the Buckeyes seem like an awful nice marquee victory to turn the ship around.
For the onlooker, it looks like a classic opportunity for an Ohio State letdown game, but the Illini have characteristics in which the scarlet and gray struggle. Those are mainly in the paint with forward Kendall Bostic and ‘guard’ Camille Hobby. The position for Hobby is in quotes, because the 6-foot-3 listed guard gives Illinois a second powerful body inside the perimeter, joining an already dangerous Bostic.
On Jan. 8, 2023, Bostic had the best game of her then three-year NCAA career, scoring 27 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. Overall, Bostic is the kind of big the Buckeyes have struggled against the last three seasons, and Bostic’s been the prototype averaging 16.6 points and 15.6 rebounds in her three career matchups against the Buckeyes.
Hobby will do a lot of the same. The former NC State guard will pull attention away from whoever is on the two inside near the basket. Since joining the starting lineup permanently four games ago, Hobby’s rewarded Green in rebounding and scoring. The two will be a handful for forwards Taylor Thierry, Cotie McMahon and Rebeka Mikulášiková.
That means that there should be a heavier rotation in the five-role for Ohio State. Will it be matching up like-for-like with Taiyier Parks or will head coach Kevin McGuff opt to play smaller with Eboni Walker? Only he knows, but Illinois aren’t all paint presence.
Around the arc is the dangerous duo of Genesis Bryant and Makira Cook. Both transferred to Illinois last season, but an injury to Cook, leaving her out of three games for Illinois, put Bryant in the driver’s seat this season for the team’s scoring. Bryant welcomes the Buckeyes averaging 17 points per game over the last three.
In those last three games, Illinois is 2-1, with the loss a tough road defeat to the Maryland Terrapins. However, those two wins show the offensive firepower that the Fighting Illini are finding again. Against the bottom two teams in the Big Ten, Illinois went off. Coach Green’s side scored 96 and 93 points against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Northwestern Wildcats, respectively, winning by an average margin of 37 points.
Those offensive performances that are a far cry from the 71.9 points the Illini scored per game in the first 14 games of the season. Even that defeat to Maryland included Illinois scoring 82 points.
For the difficulties, Illinois’ also is only behind the Michigan State Spartans in giving the ball away the least in the Big Ten, meaning it could be another tough game for the Buckeyes’ full court press. Ohio State hasn’t focused much on the press in the past three games, with a turnover margin of -1.7.
With that said, half court has worked well with guards Celeste Taylor and Jacy Sheldon at the helm. The Buckeyes have the second best defensive rating, allowing 83.3 points for every 100 possessions. Can that continue away from home, against a team hitting its stride?
G- Jacy Sheldon
G- Celeste Taylor
G- Taylor Thierry
F- Cotie McMahon
F- Rebeka Mikulášikova
- Sunday was forward Cotie McMahon’s second career 30-point game.
- Forward Rebeka Mikulášiková tied a single game career high with five assists against the Hawkeyes, the first time coming Dec. 22 against Belmont University.
- Guards Celeste Taylor and Jacy Sheldon sit second and fourth in the conference in steals per game with 2.2 and 2.1, respectively.
G- Makira Cook
G- Genesis Bryant
G- Adalia McKenzie
G- Camille Hobby
F- Kendall Bostic
- After starting all 32 games for the NC State Wolfpack last season, guard Camille Hobby has started the last four games for Coach Green. The guard’s responded by averaging 16.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in the last three games.
- Forward Kendall Bostic and guard Genesis Bryant are the only two Fighting Illini to start every game of the season for Illinois.
- After leading the Big Ten in rebounds per game the past two seasons, Bostic is third this season at 8.9 rebounds per game — her lowest total in three seasons at Illinois.
Ohio State isn’t going to go to Illinois and have a letdown game, but Bostic and Hobby will have a strong game rebounding. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, there are more Ohio State players who will be successful on the boards than Illinois, who will rely heavily on the two in and around the paint.
Forward Taylor Thierry will have a strong performance in the paint, being the benefactor of strong passing to get around Illinois.
The Buckeyes won’t have as strong of a shooting game from deep as Sunday against Iowa, but will shoot above the team average of 33.6%.
How to Watch
Date: Thursday, January 25, 2024
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: State Farm Center, Champaign, Illinois
LGHL Prediction: 77-68 Ohio State Buckeyes
A Week of Awards
Following the 100-92 win, McMahon seemingly won everything. The sophomore won the Naismith, Big Ten and Associated Press’ Player of the Week honors.
Then, on Wednesday, point guard verbal commit for 2024, Jaloni Cambridge, earned a spot on the McDonald’s All-American Team, only the 14th Ohio State recruit to receive the honor and first since Kierstan Bell in 2019. Taylor is a former All-American as well, but started her career as a Texas Longhorn.
On top of all of those, both McMahon and Sheldon each were named to their respective position’s finalist list. McMahon continuing her spot on the Cheryl Miller Power Forward of the Year list, and Sheldon on the Nancy Lieberman award’s top-10 list.