Ohio State should not have had a problem securing rebounds during Sunday afternoon’s 85-76 win against Washington. The Huskies were outrebounded by Idaho State 46-27 in their season-opening loss, then lost the rebounding battle to BYU 43-39 in a 80-72 win. They did not play anyone taller than 6-foot-1 against the Buckeyes, while Ohio State started 6-foot-3 forward Stephanie Mavunga and played forwards Alexa Hart (6-foot-3) and Makayla Waterman (6-foot-2).
Yet, Washington (1-2) pulled down 46 rebounds, with 17 coming on the offensive glass, and No. 9 Ohio State (4-1) controlled 40 boards.
“I think it’s two-fold,” Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff said after the game. “It’s discipline because you can really want it, but if you’re not hitting your person and running by and going and getting the ball, then that’s a problem. So it’s discipline, and then it’s want-to. We lacked in both areas today.”
In the first half, the discrepancy was even more apparent as Washington held a 28-17 advantage on the glass. The visiting team had 12 offensive rebounds by halftime, which nearly equalled Ohio State’s 14 defensive rebounds.
“We were terrible on the boards. I still feel like, even in the second half,” Mavunga said. “And it’s kind of bad because we’ve been really working on that, he’s been really emphasizing boxing out, hitting your person, going to get the rebound.”
The struggles to secure boards against Washington did not come as a complete shock. The Buckeyes outrebounded Idaho 59-35, but Louisville outrebounded Ohio State 47-29. And though McGuff’s team held a 55-41 rebound advantage against Quinnipiac, the Bobcats had just one less first-half rebound than the Buckeyes.
But the recent rebounding struggles come in stark contrast to how Ohio State opened the season. In the Buckeyes first game of the season, a 85-64 victory against Stanford, they dominated the glass. Mavunga set a school record with 26 rebounds and her team held a commanding 64-41 rebounding edge. It seemed rebounding could be an area of strength for Ohio State after it had multiple seasons of meager totals.
“Did we get worse at rebounding or did we not try hard enough today?,” McGuff asked. “I think we probably know the answer to that.”
Ohio State plays a starting lineup that features just one post player in Mavunga. Though Mavunga has four double-doubles in five games and became the third player to average a double-double in program history last season, she doesn’t receive much help from fellow tall forwards.
The Buckeyes start a four-guard lineup featuring Kelsey Mitchell, Sierra Calhoun, Asia Doss and Linnae Harper, and play the group for much of the game. Of the four, only Calhoun stands taller than 5-foot-8, and she rarely enters the post due to her shooting ability.
Instead, Harper, who is listed at 5-foot-8, acts as a quasi-forward at times, crashing the glass. The scrappy guard picked up nine rebounds against the Huskies. She corralled 18 rebounds against Idaho, 10 against Quinnipiac, 11 against Stanford and seven versus Louisville.
McGuff understands the negatives posed by playing a four-guard lineup, but said he likes the ability to play different lineups and not feel like the team is lacking rebounding despite not playing a lineup featuring taller players.
“The thing that I like about it is she can rebound around the basket, where she gets in kind of wrestling matches with people,” McGuff said. “She can also come from the perimeter and rebound. She gives us a lot of versatility and with her rebounding, it allows us to play in a lot of different ways.”
Mavunga said continued rebounding struggles would keep the Buckeyes from reaching their desired success, but believes the problem will be quashed with further practice.
“I think that we’re going to be really holding ourselves accountable and holding our teammates accountable, especially starting this week in practice,” Mavunga said. “We’ve already fessed up and we’ve already realized the problem.”
Ohio State’s ability to beat top-level teams depends on progress in overcoming its rebound struggles. And given the steps back since the beginning of the season, the progress has already begun, but it has been in the wrong direction.