The Ohio State women’s basketball team went undefeated through the non-conference portion of their schedule to get off to the best start in program history. Getting off to a start like that is always impressive but it is even more impressive as the achievement is even more impressive as the Buckeyes did it against a difficult schedule while adjusting to the graduation of the most prolific scorer and rebounder in program history. After a week off for Christmas, the Buckeyes returned to action tonight, opening the Big Ten portion of their schedule with a trip to Madison.
Ohio State jumped out a quick 5-0 lead but Wisconsin quickly tied the game with a pair of baskets. The Buckeyes responded by scoring seven unanswered to open up a 12-5 lead four minutes into the game. The fast pace of the game continued as the two teams began trading baskets with the Badgers slowly chipping away at the Buckeye lead before taking a 27-26 lead with five minutes remaining in the half. Ohio State took the lead right back thanks to a Tayler Hill three-pointer which ignited an 8 to 0 run that gave the Buckeyes a 34-27 lead. Wisconsin was not impressed though as they came right back with a 10 to 2 run to take a 37-36 lead with under a minute to go before halftime. A pair of free throws by freshman Maleeka Kynard gave Ohio State back the lead, 38-37, which is where the score stood as the two teams went into the locker room.
Ohio State kept alive their streak of leading at the half in every game they have played this season but this was their closest margin of the year. The Buckeyes ran their offense well for most of the half but started to rush midway through the half, taking quick shots instead of reversing the ball and getting better looks. This offensive breakdown was key to letting Wisconsin take their first lead of the game. The bigger issue for OSU in the first half was their perimeter defense as the Buckeyes struggled to defend Wisconsin beyond the arc and the Badgers made them pay, hitting 6 of 13 three-pointers. Despite the tight game, Foster continued to use his bench early and often; nine Buckeyes saw the floor and seven scored.
I am not sure what was said in the locker room during halftime but whatever it was, it worked as Ohio State opened the second half with a 13 to 0 run which gave them a 51-37 lead with fourteen and a half minutes left on the clock. The offensive output to open the half was great for Ohio State but the most impressive part was their defense; the Buckeyes did not allow the Badgers to score a point for over five minutes. After a Wisconsin finally got on the board in the second half, Ohio State responded with another 7 unanswered to stretch the lead to 58-39. After a basket by each team Ohio State’s front court started to look tired and Wisconsin took advantage, going on a 9 to 0 run to cut the OSU lead to 60-50 with nine minutes remaining in the game. Wisconsin may have helped derail their own run by calling an unnecessary timeout that allowed Ohio State to substitute and catch their breath. Amber Stokes officially derailed the Badger run by converting an old-fashioned three-point play and then hitting a layup to put OSU up 65-50 with six and half minutes remaining. That proved to be the knock-out punch which ended Wisconsin’s hopes of a comeback as Ohio State cruised the rest of the way to a 77-61 victory.
The key to the complete change in the game was the Ohio State defense in the second half. After allowing Wisconsin to have success from long-range in the first half, the Buckeye defense did a much better job defending the perimeter in the second half, allowing only two three-pointers. For the game Ohio State held Wisconsin to 38% shooting and really limited the Badgers’ chances in the paint.
Tayler Hill hit 4 of 9 three-pointers to lead the Buckeyes with 21 points; she also grabbed 7 rebounds and 3 steals. Fellow guard Samantha Prahalis had a double-double, scoring 12 points while dishing out 11 assists. Ashley Adams and Amber Stokes contributed 14 point and 10 points, respectively. Adams also had 5 rebounds and 3 blocks. Darryce Moore came off the bench to add 8 points and 5 rebounds.
The freshman continue to play key rolls on this team despite their inexperience. Kalpana Beach led the team with 8 rebounds in addition to scoring 8 points and recording 2 blocks. Guard Raven Ferguson only scored 4 points but grabbed 5 rebounds and showed that she can bring the ball up the court in the fast break. Guard Maleeka Kynard is still working to adjust to the college game but she showed great hustle and fierceness in going after loose balls today, unfortunately picking up a few fouls in the process.
For the second straight game Ohio State turned a game that was tight at halftime into a relatively easy win, showing once again that this team can handle adversity and make adjustments as the game goes on. Foster did not use the close game as an excuse to ignore the bench as 10 Buckeyes saw the floor and 8 scored. I liked Foster playing Beach and Moore at the same time for a stretch in the first half as it put a lot of athleticism in the front court to help counter Wisconsin’s attempts to push tempo.
I continue to be impressed by the complete transformation in style of play that this team has undergone from last year, going from a traditional post oriented offense to a more athletic, guard oriented attack. This transformation is even visible in the style of play at the center position as Ashley Adams continues to start a lot of possessions outside of the three-point arc and then roll to the basket, which tends to give her open looks for mid-range jumpers which she has shown that she is very capable of hitting.
Ohio State had a lot of momentum coming out of non-conference play and there may have been some concerns as to whether the week off for Christmas would derail that momentum. I think those concerns have been laid to rest, especially after the tonight’s second half. The Buckeyes will get another test on Monday, January 2nd as they host Iowa. The Hawkeyes are a guard oriented team that also feature a lot of talent in the front court. The game will be shown on BTN and will tip-off at noon, I really want to know what genius scheduled that tip time.