Mitch Andrews / Lantern photographer
After a midseason lull that saw the Ohio State women’s basketball team lose nine of 15 games, Jim Foster’s team is back on track.
After four consecutive wins, the Buckeyes are once again in the race for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Tonight, OSU (17-9, 8-6 Big Ten) takes on first-place Michigan State (24-3, 12-2 Big Ten) in a game in which the Spartans will seek revenge for the 14-point loss they suffered Jan. 16 in Columbus. After clinching at least a share of the regular season Big Ten title, MSU can secure the title outright with a win.
Foster said his team was lacking defensive intensity and attention to detail during a three-game skid from Jan. 27 to Feb. 6. He questioned his team’s mental toughness, but said it’s better now.
“If you’re going to be in the NCAA Tournament,” Foster said Wednesday, “you couldn’t ask for a better situation than our schedule was down the stretch for this particular group of players that had that goal in mind.”
That stretch included two wins against Purdue (18-10, 8-7 Big Ten) and road wins against Minnesota (11-16, 3-11 Big Ten) and No. 23 Penn State (21-7, 10-4 Big Ten). Foster said his team has been playing in tournament mode for a few weeks now.
“These are the teams that are going to be in the tournament,” junior point guard Samantha Prahalis said, noting the importance of finishing the regular season strong. “We got to keep winning to give us a better seed. It’s just important that we win.”
Tied for fifth place in conference standings, the Buckeyes look to crack the top five and earn a bye in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. The winner of the conference tournament gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“You just want to get better,” Foster said. “They’ve won before — they understand winning and the detail things that are necessary.”
OSU is tied with Iowa (20-7, 8-6 Big Ten) in the standings. The two split their series, each winning its respective home games against the other.
Senior forward Sarah Schulze made her way back to action in the team’s buzzer-beating 76-74 win at Purdue on Sunday after suffering a knee sprain that had kept her out of action since the Jan. 16 win against MSU. Her return has inspired her teammates.
“That just shows toughness,” sophomore guard Tayler Hill said. “When we’ve seen her out there, if she can do it, we know that we can play tough too.”
The Buckeyes will have to contend with Spartans leading scorer Kalisha Keane. The forward is averaging 16.3 points while shooting nearly 45 percent from beyond the 3-point line.
Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Breslin Center.