Just one week of regular-season play remains for the No. 5 Ohio State women’s basketball team, and it will spend that last week on the road, beginning its adventure in Minneapolis.
Minnesota (18-9, 10-6) and OSU (23-4, 15-1) are set for a showdown Wednesday evening in the Williams Arena on the Golden Gophers’ campus. The game is scheduled to tip off at 8 p.m.
The Williams Arena, also known as “The Barn,” has a different setup than most basketball arenas with its elevated floor. A change in perception will be a challenge for the Buckeye players, not having played in Minnesota since 2014. But fortunately for them, they will have the opportunity to get a feel of the court prior to tip.
“The Barn is different. They will have a good crowd, and it’s a great place to play,” OSU coach Kevin McGuff said. “But it’s a court, and it has baskets.”
The Buckeyes, who sit at the top of the Big Ten, have been on a roll lately, to say the least. Winning 11 straight has solidified them as one of the top teams in the nation, and they are not looking to stop their run any time soon.
On Sunday, OSU celebrated its senior day in front of a sizable home crowd and did not have a problem when it came to putting the ball in the basket. The entire team shot 62 percent from the field and 55 percent from 3-point territory. After a win like that, the Buckeyes will look to carry over their shooting accuracy into Wednesday’s tilt against Minnesota.
The Gophers are currently in a two-game slump after a 93-79 loss to Indiana and a 114-106 loss to Michigan State, both on the road. Now that they are back on their court, the Gophers will attempt to use the home-court advantage against OSU.
“They are playing at home on senior night, they are going to have plenty of motivation and they are also playing for an NCAA tournament berth,” McGuff said. “We have to make sure we have a great day of practice and that we show up really focused and ready to go.”
The last time these two squads met was last year in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Thanks to a 29-point performance from then-freshman guard Kelsey Mitchell, OSU was able to rout Minnesota 83-71 and move on to the next round.
Battle of the guards
Wednesday’s matchup will showcase two of the top guards in the country, starting with Gophers guard Rachel Banham. The redshirt senior leads the Big Ten in scoring with 27.5 points per game. Banham is also at the top of the leaderboard when it comes to 3-point field goals, knocking down 3.6 per game.
In Minnesota’s last game, a loss versus Michigan State, Banham set the conference record for points in a career with 2,921 after a 52-point outburst.
Banham’s matchup on Wednesday will be Mitchell, who averages 24.6 points per game for the Scarlet and Gray. Mitchell, like Banham, averages 3.6 outside shots per contest.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the game itself,” Mitchell said. “Being able to play against a person like (Banham) is a privilege.”
The two will get to go head to head for the first time, as Banham was absent from last year’s matchup in the Big Ten tournament.
When it comes to strategy against the Gopher backcourt, Mitchell said pressure will be one of the main focuses to slow its productivity.
“We want to put on as much pressure as possible so that they don’t get into a rhythm,” Mitchell said.
Regular-season conclusion up next
After the final buzzer goes off Wednesday night in Minnesota, the Buckeyes will immediately shift their attention to their final opponent of the regular season, No. 20 Michigan State.
OSU is scheduled to travel to East Lansing, Michigan, on Saturday to face the Spartans in hopes of ending the regular season on a positive note prior to finding out the path it will need to take to complete one of the goals it made at the beginning of the year: a Big Ten championship.
The game between the Buckeyes and the Spartans is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. on Saturday.