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Women’s basketball: Ohio State wins in unconvincing fashion over Western Kentucky in first round of NCAA tournament

Ohio State senior forward Shayla Cooper sizes up Western Kentucky guard Kendall Noble at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky, in the first round of the NCAA tournament on March 17. Credit: Dana Lewin | Courtesy of OSU Athletics

The No. 5 seed Ohio State women’s basketball team (27-6) utilized strong defense to hold off the No. 12 seed Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (27-7), winning an ugly game, 70-63, in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Lexington, Kentucky.

Both teams fought a back-and-forth battle in the first half as each struggled to find consistent offensive production. The Hilltoppers hit just 10-of-35 shots in the first half, but stayed within striking distance as they headed to the second half down 37-30. The Buckeyes ended the first and second quarters on runs of 7-0 and 7-2, respectively.

Junior guard Asia Doss, a reserve who averages just 5.4 points per game, paced the Buckeyes early, as the team struggled to find its rhythm in the first half. She led both teams with an efficient 11 first-half points, hitting 4-of-6 shots, including two from beyond the arc.

Redshirt sophomore Kelsey Mitchell scored just four first half points. The Big Ten Player of the Year continued her struggles in the second half as the Buckeyes’ leading scorer missed her first four second-half shots.

This is the second game in a row Mitchell has struggled to find an offensive flow, shooting just 3 of 22 in a Big Ten tournament semifinal loss to Purdue.

The Buckeyes stayed ahead in the second half as OSU never led by less than 3 points. They shot 53 percent from the field in the final quarter, but did no favors for themselves as they turned the ball over five times. Mitchell began to heat up as OSU pulled away in the fourth quarter. She finished with 15 points.

Western Kentucky set a school record with 233 3-pointers this season and continued hoisting shots from downtown in Friday’s game. Over half of the Hilltoppers’ shots were from 3-point range. They hit just 9-of-37 3-point attempts.

OSU connected on 8 of its 20 3-pointers.

The Hilltoppers struggled not just from deep, but from inside the arc as well. Western Kentucky made just 29 percent of her shots from the field.

Western Kentucky redshirt senior guard Kendall Noble led the Hilltoppers in scoring and rebounding with 19 points and 12 boards. The first-team Conference USA player made 7-of-22 shots.

Redshirt junior forward Stephanie Mavunga, a gametime decision according to OSU coach Kevin McGuff, did not play against WKU on Friday. The North Carolina transfer has been dealing with a right foot injury that has held her out of action since she injured it in a practice in early February.

Freshman forward Tori McCoy started in place of Mavunga, as she has in every game since the injury happened. She scored 12 points before fouling out. Senior forward Shayla Cooper scored 6 points and grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds.

OSU relied on its depth off the bench as the Buckeyes’ reserves contributed 28 points off the bench compared to the Hilltoppers’ 12 points from bench players.

Redshirt junior guard Linnae Harper transferred from Kentucky midway through the 2015-16 season, and she will face off against her former teammates as the Buckeyes will take on No. 4 seed Kentucky (22-10) in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday in Lexington, Kentucky. The Wildcats snuck past No. 13 seed Belmont (27-6), beating the Bruins 73-70 in first round on Friday afternoon.

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