Almost a week after being snubbed with only an 8 seed in the NCAA tournament, Ohio State’s women’s basketball team finally got their chance to dance as they faced 9th seeded Florida. The Gators were a bubble team and thus were thrilled to see their name announced on Monday. The Buckeyes were less thrilled by where their name was called, not only were they given a worse seed than they expected, they were placed so that a first round win would most likely earn them a matchup against top overall seed Baylor, a team that has looked unstoppable this season. The mental state of Ohio State would play a big role in today’s game, did the seeding slight anger the Buckeyes and give them a chip on their shoulder or will they come out flat, still wondering what they could have done to get a better seed.
Florida opened up playing a high pressure, trapping defense that frustrated Ohio State and forced turnovers on their first three possessions as the Gators jumped out to a 12-2 lead early. The Buckeyes finally got their offense going and put together a 12 to 5 run to cut the Gator lead to 17-14. Florida quickly responded with a 13 to 3 run to extend their lead to 30-17 with a bit more than seven minutes remaining in the half. The teams began trading baskets but the Buckeye defense could not get stops to let them go on a run and cut into the lead. The Buckeyes got a little bit of a spark thanks to a late defensive stop that let them score the final four points of the half and go into the locker room down only 39-31.
Ohio State did a good job of crawling back into the game after giving up the first 9 points of the game but their defense has struggled to consistently get stops. The Buckeye run to cut the lead to three points came after a switch to a zone defense but Florida’s shooting from beyond-the-arc pulled OSU out of the zone, the Gators hit 7 three-pointers in the first half. The other big problem for the Buckeyes has been a problem for much of the season, their inability to rebound. Florida only out-rebounded the Buckeyes 24 to 18 in the first half but the Gators had an 11 to 3 edge on offensive boards, you just can’t keep giving a team that many second chance opportunities.
Ohio State scored the first four points of the second half but Florida came right back with five straight of their own. The run trading continued as the Buckeyes scored 5 straight only to see the Gators answer with four straight to lead 48-40 with just over thirteen minutes remaining. The teams kept trading baskets for the rest of the game with the Buckeyes finally putting together a late run to pull within 2 with 54 seconds remaining in the game but Florida scored on their next possession to go back up 4. The Buckeyes came up empty on their next possession and Florida put the game away with free throws as the Buckeyes saw their season end in a 70-65 loss.
Tayler Hill led the Buckeyes with 23 points and 4 assists. Hill also showed some impressive defense at times as she came up with 4 steals and 2 blocks. Amber Stokes scored 12 points, most coming in the second half during a stretch that was crucial to giving the Buckeyes a chance at the end. Ashley Adams also reached double figures in scoring as she got a double-double with 11 points and 14 blocks while also adding 4 assists and 7 blocks. Samantha Prahalis scored only 9 points in her final game as a Buckeye while also dishing out 3 assists.
Ohio State shot 47% from there floor compared to Florida’s 35%, but the Gators won the rebounding battle 46 to 35, generating 16 points off of second chances. Those second chance points were the difference in the game and point out the biggest place that OSU needs to improve.
Today’s loss is profoundly disappointing and not the way that I thought we would see Samantha Prahalis’s career end. When she arrived at Ohio State I loved her passion for the game and her skills and felt sure that she would be able to get us to a Final Four. Unfortunately things did not turn out that way though she helped lead the team to two Sweet 16 berths while also setting a Big Ten records for assists and today becoming only the second player in NCAA history to score 2,000 points while dishing out 900 assists.
The biggest weakness for Ohio State all season was its young frontcourt where nobody was older than a sophomore. The play of the frontcourt should improve greatly next season after an off-season of working and learning. People can criticize Jim Foster’s coaching in big games but he is great at getting his players to improve between seasons. Improvement by the frontcourt will need to focus on better boxing out as poor rebounding was costly several times this season. In the backcourt, the Buckeyes will return Tayler Hill who exploded this season as a scorer and Amber Stokes who is a great defender and has shown that she can attack the basket. OSU also has a trio of freshman guards who showed real promise at times this season and next season will hinge on their improvement in the offseason.
I am frustrated and sad with this loss but there is always next season and this team is really morphing into an athletic team that should be better able to compete in the tournament. Plus I keep reminding myself, Foster is getting the team to the tournament every year and more importantly, continues to graduate every player who ever played for him, and that is the point of college sports.