It was just a couple of weeks ago when the Ohio State women’s basketball team boarded the bus back to Columbus in frustration after a loss in Evanston, Illinois, to Northwestern.
Now, the Buckeyes have the opportunity to tie up the regular-season series, as they are getting set to host the Wildcats on Thursday evening at the Schottenstein Center.
The predicted fast-paced matchup between No. 7 Ohio State (15-4, 7-1) and Northwestern (13-7, 2-6) is set to tip off at 7 p.m.
Last time these two programs met, OSU came out flat, creating a gap in the score early on, which made it difficult for a comeback.
Although the Buckeyes were able to reduce Northwestern’s advantage to four points by the final buzzer, they knew that it wasn’t their best 40 minutes of basketball. Since then, the Scarlet and Gray have made advancements on the practice court and in their past three contests — each of which have been victories.
“I think we have improved since the last time we played Northwestern,” coach Kevin McGuff said. “It will really be about our focus and energy from the start. We didn’t have good focus when we played them the first time, and they really made us pay.”
On the contrary, Northwestern’s play has descended, losing every game since defeating OSU. Knowing that they have the ability to beat the Buckeyes, the Wildcats are coming to Columbus with confidence and fury in attempt to put their losing streak to an end.
The Wildcats play a similar game to the Buckeyes, looking to push the ball up the court and outwork the opposing team.
“They like to get to the rim fast and then kick out to their shooters, so we are going to try to stop them in the transition game,” OSU junior forward Shayla Cooper said.
If OSU can control Northwestern’s speed, than it will force the Wildcats to abandon the up-tempo play and resort to half-court offense.
The Buckeyes encountered the Wildcats in a similar character entering the Jan. 14 game, playing them after they lost twice in a row to fellow Big Ten members Michigan State and Purdue. That being said, Northwestern will look to bring its all to Columbus hoping to pull off another upset.
In Coffey, the Wildcats trust
It isn’t a surprise that Northwestern turns to junior forward Nia Coffey when it’s in search of a surge on either side of the court.
Coffey possesses a forceful paint presence that ranks her No. 5 in the Big Ten in scoring, racking up 19.8 points per game. To add to her impressive scoring abilities, Coffey grabs 10.3 rebounds per contest to lead the conference, as well as acting as a regular supply of tenacious defense for the Wildcats.
Against the Buckeyes two weeks ago, Coffey dropped 23 points and was a threat on nearly every possession. OSU had a difficult time finding an answer for her, but this time around her name will be circled in the Buckeye game plan.
Sixth woman of the year
When looking over the Buckeyes’ statistics, observers might think that Cooper would be a regular in the starting lineup.
But that is not the case.
Cooper started the year in the first five, but McGuff saw that she could be used strategically as the first player to come off the bench.
With all the attention on sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell and senior guard Ameryst Alston, teams tend to be unaware of Cooper’s capabilities.
Scoring in all sorts of ways, Cooper averages 13.4 points per game and leads the team in rebounding with 8.6 per contest.
The 6-foot-2 forward maintains a confident but modest attitude, knowing that her contributions off the bench can be a difference-maker in the final outcome.
Against Northwestern, Cooper’s energy brought the Buckeyes back in the game, scoring 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field.
Cooper said she has been content with her play, as well as the team’s most recent performances, heading into the rematch with the Wildcats.
“We have positivity and a lot of communication,” Cooper said. “We pass the ball a lot to each other, and try to get each other open … we are just trying to get our transition game back to where it was.”
On the road again
After taking on Northwestern, the Buckeyes are set to continue their campaign at Illinois (8-11, 1-7) on Monday.
The Fighting Illini have had a rough January, losing six of their last seven games, but will battle from baseline to baseline with the Buckeyes regardless of the numbers on paper.
Action between the two Big Ten foes at the State Farm Center in Champaign, Illinois, is scheduled to get underway at 7 p.m.