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NCAA Tournament future on the fence

Mitch Andrews / Lantern photographer

The Ohio State women’s basketball team remains embroiled in a heated race for positioning in Big Ten play.

With just four games remaining in the regular season, it is safe to say that parity has reigned in Big Ten women’s basketball this year. A recent two-game winning streak placed the Buckeyes (15-9, 6-6 Big Ten) back in the postseason picture.

OSU earned a 90-67 victory against Purdue (17-9, 7-6 Big Ten) Thursday at Nationwide Arena to improve to 5-6 in the conference. The Buckeyes then traveled to Minnesota (11-14, 3-9 Big Ten) on Sunday for a game that coach Jim Foster described as a test of his team’s maturity. OSU fought off a late Golden Gophers charge to hang on for the win and even their conference record at 6-6.

With the game tied, 71-71, in the second half, the Buckeyes took the last of the contest’s many lead changes and hung on for an 83-76 win. Senior center Jantel Lavender led OSU in scoring with 29 points. In the process, she scored her 2,587th point, passing Katie Smith to become the all-time leading scorer in program history.

After Thursday’s win, Foster said his team could hardly afford to focus on its position in the conference standings, even with recent progress.

“I haven’t looked at the standings; I’m not going to look at the standings,” Foster said. “We’re not in position to look into the future.”

Foster has emphasized an inward-looking approach to his players, but Purdue coach Sharon Versyp provided insight into the depth and competitiveness of the Big Ten this year.

“There’s at least seven teams that should go to the NCAA (Tournament),” Versyp said. “We’re beating each other up because it is a great conference. I hope people notice it.”

According to Versyp’s estimation, the Buckeyes, No. 7 in the Big Ten, could be on the cusp of hearing their names called on Selection Sunday.

OSU will have more chances to impress the selection committee as it still has matchups against the top three Big Ten programs ahead. The Buckeyes will host Penn State on Thursday before traveling to Purdue and Michigan State. Their regular season will end Feb. 27 at home against Wisconsin.

Thursday’s game against the Lady Lions tips off at 7 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.

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