Eric Beiersdorfer / Lantern photographer
Having weathered a three-game suspension to its star point guard, Samantha Prahalis, the No. 6 Ohio State women’s basketball team (5-0) enters the heart of its non-conference schedule undefeated and expecting the best shot from each opponent.
“We have to have an understanding that we are targeted by our opponents,” OSU coach Jim Foster said. “We are a big game on a lot of people’s schedules. Team are going to come out and play us hard every night.”
The Buckeyes will face Virginia (4-3) tonight in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Each of Virginia’s three losses this season have come against nationally ranked opponents. Last season, OSU suffered its first loss of the season in the challenge, when it fell to Duke, 83-67.
“We have to really play hard and win this challenge because in past years when we’ve had it, I don’t think we’ve came out successful,” OSU center Jantel Lavender said. “It’s a challenge for us.”
OSU guard Tayler HIll said she knows teams are looking forward to their opportunity to knock off the Buckeyes.
“There really aren’t many bad teams at this time of year. Everyone comes to play and to compete. We have a big target on our back,” Hill said. “I think everyone wants a piece of us.”
On Sunday, the Buckeyes will return to the Schottenstein Center to host No. 11 Oklahoma (6-0). OSU forward Sarah Schulze said she prefers playing a tough non-conference schedule.
“It’s really exciting to play good teams,” Schulze said. “But it comes down to us being ready for them, and coach Foster always has us ready.”
Foster said there are plenty of advantages to playing quality opponents.
“We play some solid teams that are going to win a lot of games, and hopefully at the end of the year, it really benefits our Ratings Percentage Index,” Foster said.
RPI is used to rank teams based on their wins and losses and the strength of their schedules. It is often taken into consideration when the NCAA Tournament selection committee determines a team’s seeding.
Tonight’s game will be the Buckeye’s lone regular season game at St. John’s Arena.
Lavender said she’s excited to play in a different atmosphere.
“St. Hon’s is fun, it’s compact,” Lavender said. “It seems like there’s more people at the game. It’s cool to play there.”
Lavender is seven rebounds short of tying Tracey Hall’s career school record of 1,115.
“If you win a lot of games, you got to have good players, and if you have good players, records are going to fall,” Foster said. “Jantel is setting a standard that is going to be tough to beat.”