Look Out — Buckeyes Are Rolling Into Big Dance
Whether or not the Ohio State women’s basketball team concludes its season in fantastical fashion in downtown Columbus or not, of course, remains to be seen.
However, the Buckeyes are on a pretty good path with just the NCAA Tournament remaining.
Kevin McGuff’s squad followed up its regular-season Big Ten championship with an impressive run to the league tournament title in Indianapolis, the capper a solid 79-69 win over second-seeded Maryland, which entered Sunday’s final with a perfect 11-0 all-time record in the Big Ten Tournament.
Ohio State (26-6) won the BTT for the first time since 2011 and for the first time with star guard Kelsey Mitchell, the three-time Big Ten Player of the Year, running the show.
The tournament has been a three-year showpiece for Maryland, but the Terrapins (25-6) couldn’t slow down No. 13 OSU or Mitchell, who finished with 25 points and inched closer to the No. 2 ranking on the NCAA all-time scoring list.
But, as was the case, in the quarterfinal blowout of Rutgers and the thrilling, two-point win over Minnesota in the semis, McGuff also received key performances from a host of other players.
In the defeat of powerful Maryland, Stephanie Mavunga finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds, Sierra Calhoun scored 13, and Linnae Harper added 14 points and 11 rebounds.
McGuff said it was great to see a team effort lead to a title for a team that is loaded with upperclassmen who are hungry to log a memorable season.
“This was really special,” he said. “We have five seniors who have really worked hard. For them to win this championship, it’s really special. I’m really proud of our team because this is a great conference.”
After trailing 22-17 at the end of the first quarter, Ohio State outscored Maryland 27-9 in the second period to take a 44-31 lead into the half. The Buckeyes began the period with a 16-2 run, which proved key as the Terrapins rallied in the second half.
In fact, Maryland ended the third quarter on a 12-2 scoring run and continued to climb back into the game early on in the fourth. The Terrapins pulled within two points with about four minutes left to play when OSU finally managed to shut the door.
“Teams make runs, especially playing in the Big Ten Tournament,” Mitchell said. “It feels really good. It’s nice to take home some hardware.”
Maryland coach Brenda Frese talked up her program prior to the game and it appeared her players still had plenty of belief throughout the contest. However, the second quarter was the undoing for the Terrapins, who who 23 percent in that period compared to OSU’s 57-percent output.
“Tonight, one quarter we fell short and it came back to bite us,” Kristen Confroy said.
Kaila Charles scored 20 points for Maryland and Confroy added 17.
The Buckeyes now head into the NCAA Tournament a scarlet-hot team. They have won 11 straight games including the three at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indy.
Mavunga certainly has been a primary reason for the surge. She averaged 19.6 points and 12.6 rebounds per game while shooting 24 of 32 (75. percent) from the field in the tournament. In the narrow 90-88 win over Minnesota, she had Wilt Chamberlain-like numbers – 26 points, 21 rebounds and seven blocked shots.
Her 15-point, 12-rebound showing against Maryland marked her 16th double-double of the season and 55th of her career. Harper had her 12th double-double of the season and 23rd of her career.
McGuff also pointed out members of the OSU bench are stepping up at the right time, most notably veteran power forward Makayla Waterman.
And then, of course, there is the unstoppable force that is Mitchell, a 5-8 left-handed guard who now ranks third on the all-time NCAA scoring list with 3,363 career points. Mitchell is 30 points from moving into second on the list – 31 moves her past Jackie Stiles.
In the championship game, Mitchell added five three-point field goals to increase her NCAA record to 490 career threes. She is seven triples away from breaking the NCAA single-season record.
- * Ohio State won its sixth Big Ten Tournament title and first since 2011. The Buckeyes also won their 43rd BTT game, most in league history. Their overall record is 43-19.
* Mitchell set a new Big Ten Tournament career scoring record of 265 points (10 games). The previous record was 257 set by Ohio State alum Jantel Lavender from 2008-11 in 10 games.
- * Mavunga recorded 12 rebounds and finished with 39 rebounds for the tournament, the third-highest total in Big Ten Tournament history. Her 21-rebound effort against Minnesota set a BTT single-game record.
* In the semis, Minnesota owned an 85-79 lead with 4:40 to play. However, the Buckeyes closed out the game on an 11-3 run led by Mitchell, who finished with 30 points.
* In the quarterfinal 82-57 win over Rutgers, senior forward Alexa Hart made her first start of the season and responded with 10 points and six rebounds. Hart started in place of senior guard Asia Doss, who missed the first game of her career with an ankle injury.
* Against Rutgers, OSU was 20 of 23 from the free-throw line, which equates to 87.0 percent.
- * Mitchell has made at least one three-pointer in 90 straight games, an NCAA record.
* Ohio State has played in 10 BTT championship games, most of any team.