On Jan. 15, the No. 18 Ohio State women’s basketball team sat atop the Big Ten with no conference losses and winning margins of at least seven points in every game.
But a little more than two weeks later, the season’s outlook has drastically shifted. The Buckeyes dropped three games in a row — to Michigan, Maryland and Iowa — and fell to fourth in the conference.
Ohio State (17-5, 6-3 Big Ten) bounced back with a 78-62 home win against Michigan State on Saturday and will search for its second straight win when it plays Penn State (13-9, 4-5 Big Ten) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Schottenstein Center.
G — Asia Doss — Senior, 5-foot-7, 9.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.4 apg
G — Kelsey Mitchell — Senior, 5-foot-8, 24.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.3 apg
G — Linnae Harper — Redshirt senior, 5-foot-8, 15.6 ppg, 9 rpg, 2.4 apg
G — Sierra Calhoun — Redshirt junior, 6-foot, 12 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1 apg
F — Stephanie Mavunga — Redshirt senior, 6-foot-3, 15.4 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 0.7 apg
G — Teniya Page — Junior, 5-foot-7, 18.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.8 apg
G — Amari Carter — Redshirt sophomore, 5-foot-8, 14.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.6 apg
G — Siyeh Frazier — Sophomore, 5-foot-9, 7.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.9 apg
G — Jaida Travascio-Green — Sophomore, 6-foot-2, 12.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 0.7 apg
F — De’Janae Boykin — Redshirt sophomore, 6-foot-2, 7 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.7 apg
Scouting Penn State
A middle-of-the-road Big Ten team, the Nittany Lions fell to Purdue 88-73 on the road Sunday afternoon, ending their three-game win streak.
In that game, the Boilermakers took advantage of Penn State’s defense, one of its most glaring flaws. Purdue hit 73.5 percent of its shots and went 5-for-8 from 3-point range. This season, the Nittany Lions have allowed opponents to shoot 41.6 percent from the field, hird-worst in the Big Ten.
The Buckeyes — who have the highest-scoring trio of players in the nation in forward Stephanie Mavunga (15.4 points per game) and guards Kelsey Mitchell (24.8 points per game) and Linnae Harper (15.6 points per game) — are primed to take advantage of Penn State’s lacking defense. They shoot 44.6 percent from the field, the fourth-best in the conference, despite taking more 3-pointers than any other team in the Big Ten.
However, Penn State’s offense also has struggled, hitting 40.1 percent of its shots, the second-lowest average in the conference. It averages just 12.3 assists per game, which also ranks second-worst in the Big Ten.
But the Nittany Lions have a prolific scorer in junior guard Teniya Page. She dropped 32 points in last season’s matchup between the two teams in what Ohio State redshirt junior forward Makayla Waterman called a “career game.”
“She’s incredibly quick,” said Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff. “Really crafty with the ball. She can shoot from the perimeter. Can also put the ball on the floor and drive it. Just all-around a great player.”
Penn State needs her to repeat last year’s performance to have a chance in the game, since it does not have the advantage in many areas of the court. Page will needhelp from redshirt sophomore guard Amari Carter, who averages 14.8 points per game. Carter is tied for first in the Big Ten with 2.7 steals per game, but Ohio State ranks first in the conference in turnover margin.
Redshirt sophomore forward De’Janae Boykin pulls down 8.9 rebounds per game, but Penn State holds the second-worst rebounding margin in the Big Ten (-2.2).
Ohio State believes it still has a “target on our back”
The Buckeyes entered the season with extremely high expectations. They were voted the top team in the Big Ten by both the media and coaches, earned a top-10 preseason spot in the Associated Press preseason poll, and Mitchell was named preseason Big Ten Player of the Year.
Ohio State still ranks 18th in the nation — and will likely be a top-four seed in the Big Ten tournament with a chance to be a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament — but it has not fulfilled the sky-high expectations, especially recently. But despite the three-game skid, the Buckeyes still believe they have a “target” on their back.
“I think so, just with the success we’ve had in recent years,” McGuff said. “I think we definitely have it. That’s part of the responsibility of being at Ohio State.”
That success has placed Ohio State in the top three in the Big Ten the past two seasons. The Buckeyes currently sit fourth in the conference, but they play a group of middling teams the remainder of the season and have a chance to run the table.
Waterman believes her team’s Big Ten success since McGuff was hired outweighs the recent struggles.
“I think that just being at Ohio State, you have that [target],” Waterman said. “We’ve been pretty successful in the past, pretty successful this year. People want to do well against us, they want to beat us. When we hit that losing streaking streak and we feel like they’ve hit that target, we’ve just got to rebuild and just stay focused.”
Penn State has played inconsistently against the conference’s best teams. It has not beaten a team with less than four losses in the Big Ten, though it nearly knocked off No. 11 Maryland Dec. 31, but lost 69-65.
The Hawkeyes, Wolverines and Terrapins showed Ohio State’s target can be hit. But this season, the Nittany Lions have been unable to beat teams as well-regarded as the Buckeyes.