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Buckeyes must go through Pat Summitt’s Lady Vols for ticket to Elite Eight

Andy Gottesman / Multimedia Editor

Making its second trip to the Sweet 16 in three years, the No. 4 seed Ohio State women’s basketball team faces the challenge of overtaking a living legend, if it hopes to extend its rollercoaster season.

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, with her eight national titles and 106-21 NCAA Tournament record, await Jim Foster and his Buckeyes for a matchup Saturday in Dayton, Ohio.

Since coming to OSU before the 2002 season, Foster has yet to take his team past the round of 16, even though he took Vanderbilt to the Final Four once, and to the Elite Eight four times.

In his 11 seasons coaching in the SEC, Foster became familiar with Summitt as an in-state rival. He made it clear in Wednesday’s press conference that no love was lost between the two programs during his tenure at Vanderbilt.

“I don’t even eat orange M&M’s,” Foster quipped. “They don’t taste as good as the other ones.”

The Lady Volunteers (33-2) head into Saturday’s game as the No. 1 seed in the Dayton region, and are coming off wins against No. 16 Stetson and No. 8 Marquette in the tournament’s first two rounds.

After dismantling Stetson, 99-34, Tennessee squeaked by Marquette, 79-70, in a game in which Summitt said her team wasn’t completely there mentally.

“I thought we were not as energized,” Summitt said in a conference call Wednesday. “We were just not getting after it.

“It’s a new day and a new game. We just have to get this team focused. Our leadership has to really help us as we go through this tournament.”

OSU (24-9) is coming off a physical, grind-it-out-type 67-60 win against Georgia Tech, in which the Yellow Jackets seemed to do everything they physically could to get under the Buckeyes’ skin.

“I definitely think that game prepared us for anything we could potentially face, because I don’t think any other team is going to play physical-slash-dirty like that,” OSU senior center Jantel Lavender said. “I think that Tennessee will be physical, and that game definitely prepared us for Tennessee.”

Lavender had another double-digit scoring game in the win against Georgia Tech, setting a new NCAA career record, with 135. The four-time Big Ten Player of the Year has averaged 25.5 points and 11 rebounds per game so far in the tournament.

Lavender received a technical foul during the game after getting an elbow to the face from Yellow Jacket Chelsea Regins. She said she received the technical because the two had been playing very physically up to that point, and the referee gave them double technicals in hopes of stopping the rough play.

Although the play added emotional fuel to the Buckeyes’ fire, Foster said he doesn’t mind when his players get riled up during games.

“I think it depends on why they’re showing emotion,” he said. “I think if the game starts to cause you to be emotional and good plays start to cause you to be emotional … I think that’s a good emotion.”

Foster mentioned how much he enjoyed watching Lavender — usually a calm, collected player — get fired up to the point where she needed to be restrained by guard Samantha Prahalis, who is known to get overly emotional at times.

“Quite frankly, I loved the role reversal,” Foster said. “I loved seeing Jantel fired up, and I loved the fact that Sammy Prahalis became the idea of modification.”

The Buckeyes’ chronicled struggles during conference play were great enough to warrant concern that the team wouldn’t even make the NCAA Tournament. But being where they are now, on an 11-game winning streak, they can’t afford to have their focus on anything but what’s in front of them.

“We want to focus on what’s now and not what’s in the past — the ups and downs,” senior guard Brittany Johnson said. “We want to focus on the game that’s coming up, not the beginning of the season.”

The winner between OSU and Tennessee will take on the winner of No. 2 seed Notre Dame (28-7) and No. 6 seed Oklahoma (23-11) in the Elite Eight. Tipoff is scheduled for noon Saturday at the University of Dayton Arena, in Dayton, Ohio.

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