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Women’s Big Ten Tournament title up for grabs

The Ohio State women’s basketball team, the two-time defending Big Ten Tournament champion, is the No. 5 seed in this year’s conference tournament. No. 1-seed Michigan State, which earned the top spot for the first time in program history, has three losses in conference play.

Two of those losses came against the Buckeyes.

In other words, the 2011 Big Ten Tournament is up for grabs.

First-round games are set to begin on Thursday at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. When the tournament kicks off, the field will feature six Big Ten programs that had schedules among the top-50 strongest in the country, according to NCAA.org.

After Purdue’s 90-67 loss to OSU on Feb. 10 at Nationwide Arena, Boilermaker coach Sharon Versyp said even more teams could be selected for the NCAA Tournament.

“I think there’s at least seven teams that should go to the NCAA,” Versyp said. “It’s a very tough conference. Any given day, anything can happen.”

With its 80-47 win against Wisconsin on Sunday, OSU (19-9, 10-6 Big Ten) earned a first-round bye and a date with No. 4-seed Iowa (22-7, 10-6 Big Ten).

After the game, OSU coach Jim Foster said that despite OSU’s occasional struggles during the regular season, including two three-game losing streaks, it was always capable of finishing the season strongly.

“When everybody was in a panic, I thought we were still redeemable,” Foster said. “I’ve seen teams figure it out at different stages of the season.”

Should Foster’s Buckeyes beat Iowa to advance to the semifinals, they could face Michigan State (25-4, 13-3 Big Ten). OSU managed to sweep the season series against the Spartans with a 67-53 victory on Jan. 16 at home and a 54-53 win Thursday in East Lansing, Mich.

After Sunday’s win, senior center Jantel Lavender said it does not matter whom the Buckeyes play.

“We’re starting to show who we are,” she said. “We have a really strong team. We don’t want (the season) to be over.”

Besides strong performances against the Spartans, the Buckeyes beat three of four squads seeded above them in the conference tournament. Foster said he is comfortable with his team ahead of what he hopes will be a “months”-long postseason.

“I think we’re in a very good place and we understand how we got here, which is more important,” Foster said. “We had to earn it.”

The subject of parity in this year’s Big Ten Tournament was discussed during the postgame press conference on Sunday.

Foster smiled and said, “It’s certainly going to be more interesting than it looked a few weeks ago.”


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