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Kevin McGuff’s increased work with Celeste Taylor is paying off for Ohio State women’s basketball

In five seasons, Taylor’s had four head coaches and is still open and ready to learn

Indiana v Ohio State Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Ohio State women’s basketball guard Celeste Taylor was a leader from a young age. As her parents shared with Land-Grant Holy Land in the offseason, Taylor’s led her own growth as a person and basketball player. So, when the former Texas Longhorn and Duke Blue Devil transferred to the Buckeyes in the offseason, there wasn’t a lot of work needed.

Outside of the ins and outs of head coach Kevin McGuff’s offensive and defensive systems, Taylor was an expected starter from the moment she transferred, already establishing herself behind the scenes as a leader of the scarlet and gray upon entering the locker room.

Schematically, Taylor already played in a defensive press at Duke. A defensive set that Taylor fit so well into that it earned her National Defensive Player of the Year finalist recognition. It felt like a shoo-in.

On the court, it paid dividends as the Buckeyes went from a 2022-23 team giving up 68.4 points per game (281st team in the nation) to 63.1 (up to 155th). That jump looms larger considering Ohio State’s strength of schedule against Division I sides this season is ninth in the nation. Even so, McGuff has regrets about how he treated Taylor upon arrival.

“I’ve taken more time lately to watch film with Celeste (Taylor),” said McGuff on Wednesday. “And I should have done it earlier in the season just to make sure she understands what my expectations for her are and where I think she’s doing well and where I think she needs to do things a little differently.”

In Taylor’s four-year NCAA career before Ohio State, the guard had three different head coaches. After one year in Texas, the program changed leadership. Then, Taylor transferred to Duke under practically a first-year coach.

With that in mind, it would be no shock that Taylor might need less attention, with a long list of situations building up her independence and flexibility. It’s just the opposite.

“She loves it, she loves to be coached,” said McGuff. “I probably should have coached her harder early on but I’m coaching her a little harder now and I think she’s really responding to that.”

Offensively, Taylor’s additional coaching paid off. In the first half of the season, the guard averaged 7.3 points per game. In games, Taylor made the occasional basket but the brunt of the scoring fell on the likes of guard Jacy Sheldon and forward Cotie McMahon to beat opponents.

Since then, Taylor’s not only grown her scoring levels but is also scoring them in clutch situations. None timelier than against the Iowa Hawkeyes on Jan. 21.

Down one point, with 20 seconds remaining, the ball was in the hands of Taylor, standing past the three-point line. The graduate senior looks around, surveys the situation, and doesn’t try to dish it to McMahon or Sheldon. Taylor went straight at the basket.

That was two of Taylor’s 10 points in the Buckeyes’ victory, due to limited minutes. In the last three weeks, the phrase “limited minutes” has been synonymous with Taylor, due to foul trouble.

Against arguably Ohio State’s toughest opponents of the 2024 calendar year, Taylor has picked up early fouls that left her out at key times, and it showed on the court.

In that victory over the Hawkeyes, the matchup between Taylor and superstar guard Caitlin Clark was one to watch, but fans didn’t get to see it all that often. In the first half, Taylor played 5:55 of the first 20 minutes of the game, due to picking up two fouls in the span of 30 seconds.

Then, Sunday in a win over the Indiana Hoosiers, Taylor played one minute of a second quarter where the visiting Hoosiers outscored the Buckeyes 26-14, putting Ohio State down five points entering halftime after leading by six following the first quarter.

“She’s just a really aggressive player,” said McGuff. “She’s gonna pick up some fouls. The ones I don’t like, she got one, I don’t remember which game it was in, where it was 80 feet from the basket. It was her second one early. Those are the ones she’s got to throw away and not do.”

Coach McGuff is ok with most of them, chalking it up to the intensity with which Taylor plays. When a foul gets called when Taylor’s breaking up a screen, that’s fine. When a call doesn’t go the guard’s way and she tries to get a quick steal to make up for it, those are the types of plays McGuff says aren’t worth the effort.

Leading to the notion of Taylor dialing back in some situations and being selective with where and when the motor turns on. In the final seven games of the regular season, Taylor will have plenty of opportunities to show dividends of that increased coach/player relationship.

The Buckeyes start Thursday with a game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, then it's a stretch of games against teams all vying for a top-four spot in the standings, earning a double-bye for the Big Ten Tournament. Of the remaining games, four coming on the road.

Ohio State’s regular season culminates in what might be a Big Ten title game, in Iowa City against the Hawkeyes. Currently, both teams are tied for first place, with conference record alone determining who lifts the trophy at the end of the season. If both teams win out, the winner of the March 3 matchup between the two sides ends with the winner adding to their program’s trophy cabinet. For Coach McGuff, the best for Taylor in scarlet and gray is yet to come.

“Hopefully she can be even at a higher level than she is now,” said McGuff. “Because I think she’s a great player.”