After falling to the two top-ranked teams in the country, the No. 7 Ohio State women’s basketball team (0-2) is set to host Belmont (2-0) on Thursday at 7 p.m. in search of its first victory.
The Buckeyes began the season on Friday in Columbia, South Carolina, falling to No. 2 South Carolina 88-80 before hosting top-ranked Connecticut, losing to the three-time defending champions 100-56. OSU coach Kevin McGuff and his players remained pleased with the scheduling of the Huskies and Gamecocks, undeterred by the losses.
“You never know how good you are, unless you face the best,” junior forward Shayla Cooper said, dismissing the notion that OSU shouldn’t have scheduled the difficult early-season tests.
“If you’re trying to be relevant, you’ve gotta play the best teams, you’ve gotta get on TV. Even though it didn’t go our way, we had a great crowd, we had a lot of recruits here, we were on national TV,” McGuff said following the loss to UConn, referencing a conversation he had with Huskies coach Geno Auriemma prior to tipoff.
Belmont, despite starting the season with two victories over Young Harris, 80-31, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, 63-62, is unranked. The Bruins, who are members of the Ohio Valley Conference, finished the 2014-15 season with a 14-17 record, falling to all three ranked teams they played.
“I just know they run a motion offense and they love to shoot,” Cooper said about Belmont.
The numbers back up Belmont’s propensity to shoot early and often. The Bruins shot 21 and 24 3-pointers in their first two games, making 33.3 and 47.6 percent, respectively. They also have forced 39 turnovers combined, while committing fewer fouls than their opponents in each of the past two games.
But rather than specifically focus on game-planning for Belmont, OSU has worked on improving itself in light of the two losses to start the season.
“I think our communication improved today,” Cooper said.
She continued, noting that the disappointment felt by the Buckeyes after the loss to South Carolina outweighed the frustration they felt following the loss to UConn because of the close game against the Gamecocks.
Much is able to be learned when you play against such elite competition early on.
The game against South Carolina showed the Buckeyes how close they were to the No. 2 team while the loss to UConn showed them how far they have yet to go.
But between both games, rebounding, or the lack thereof, plagued OSU. The Gamecocks outrebounded the Buckeyes 51-42, and the Huskies took further advantage of their size, achieving a 49-29 lead on the glass.
Cooper led OSU in rebounding in both games with 15 and eight, respectively, but beyond her, sophomore forward Alexa Hart and sparsely used redshirt junior center Lisa Blair, McGuff’s team lacks size and strength in the interior. This puts a lot of the weight on Cooper’s shoulders.
Cooper said she thinks her physicality is her most important skill she brings to the team.
“I like going up against one of our transfers, (junior forward) Stephanie (Mavunga) because she’s really physical,” she said.
Mavunga, redshirting this year, must sit out a season after transferring to OSU from North Carolina this fall. For the Tar Heels, the 6-foot-3 forward averaged 14.4 points and 9.6 rebounds while leading the team with 2.6 blocks per game.
If NCAA rules did not require Mavunga to sit out a season, she would likely start beside Cooper or Hart inside, fortifying the interior that has given the Buckeyes issues.
But without her, OSU will need to find ways to improve on the glass all season long. Its search for answers begins Thursday against Belmont. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.