No. 9 Ohio State (1-1) will return to action at 7 p.m. Wednesday to take on Idaho (1-0) after beginning the season by splitting a tough weekend series of games, beating No. 14 Stanford 85-64 and falling to No. 5 Louisville 95-90 in overtime.
The Vandals opened the year Friday against Colorado State and rode a 21-0 run to an 83-69 win. They finished 19-15 last season and returned their top three scorers — sophomore guard Mikayla Ferenz, junior forward Geraldine McCorkell and sophomore guard Taylor Piece.
Ferenz poses a threat to the Buckeyes, who allowed Louisville guard Asia Durr to drop a school-record 47 points in Sunday’s game. Though she has never scored 47 points, Ferenz holds the program record for a 41-point game against Northern Arizona a season ago. The guard averaged a conference-leading 18.5 points per game last season and was honored as first-team All-Big Sky.
“She can really shoot the ball,” Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff said. “She’s a big-time player. She’s great off a screen. She’s got a very quick release. She’s somebody we’ve got to find in transition. She’s capable of absolutely having a huge night, so we’ve got to make sure we can slow her down.”
Ferenz connected on 43.9 percent of field goals, 36.3 percent of 3-pointers and 88.8 percent of free throws in 2016-17. McCorkell and Pierce added 12.8 and 12.6 points per game last season, respectively.
“The thing about them is they’re so different,” McGuff said. “They’re going to come in and shoot probably 40 3s and if we’re not on point with our defense, they could really make you pay.”
McGuff might have exaggerated how many triples Idaho launches, but not by much. Against the Rams, the Vandals tied a school record by hitting 18 3-pointers on 36 attempts. Last season, they ranked third in the country with 10.4 3-point makes per game.
“I’m telling you, you guys are going to watch Idaho and watch them run offense and shoot 3s and be like, ‘Wow, they’re hard to play against,’” McGuff said. “And so, I think it’s going to be a really big challenge for us from a mental standpoint.”
Though Ohio State will likely have its hands full defending Idaho’s offense, it might have an advantage inside. McCorkell led the team with 6.8 rebounds per game. She will likely be one of the players tasked with defending Ohio State redshirt senior forward Stephanie Mavunga, who dropped 23 points and pulled down 26 rebounds in the season opener against Stanford.
Louisville stifled Mavunga and the Buckeyes’ rebounders, but Idaho might struggle due to the physical differences between the two teams.
“We will be physically, overall as a team, faster, bigger and stronger than Idaho,” McGuff said. “That’s not what’s going to determine the game. It’s going to be our mental fortitude and our mental toughness to be able to lock in and really defend what they’re doing.”
In the offseason, McGuff said Ohio State’s focus was on improving a defense that has held the team back in the past. He said he saw flashes of improvement in the first two games of the season, which encouraged him.
Idaho’s 3-point-happy offense, which turned the ball over just 13.2 times per game last season (30th in the country), presents the latest challenge for the Buckeye defense.