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Women’s Basketball: Ohio State going for fourth-straight win against Rutgers

Ohio State senior guard Kelsey Mitchell (3) dribbles past defenders in the second quarter against Michigan State on Jan. 27 at the Schottenstein Center. The Buckeyes beat the Spartans 78-62. Credit: Alyssia Graves | Assistant Sports Director

The No. 13 Ohio State women’s basketball team (19-5, 8-3 Big Ten) has bounced back from a three-game losing streak with three wins in a row. Despite the recent success, the Buckeyes face a formidable opponent in Rutgers (18-7, 6-5 Big Ten) at 7 p.m. Thursday for a chance to win their fourth straight game.

During their three-game win streak, the Buckeyes have averaged 17.6 assists per game, three higher than their season average. Their ball movement has improved after a rough stretch earlier in the season and will be a focal point heading into the matchup against the Scarlet Knights, who create a conference-leading 12.5 steals per game.

The matchup features one of the Big Ten’s top offenses facing the top defense. Ohio State is ranked first in the conference when it comes to scoring with 86 points per game, while defensively Rutgers’ stingy defense allowed 57.1 points per game.

The Buckeyes will try to limit the production of Rutgers senior guard Tyler Scaife, who missed last season due to open-heart surgery. Scaife leads the team in scoring with 19.2 points per game. Rutgers does not have another player who averages more than 7.2 points per game.

“They have some really talented players. Scaife is one of the best perimeter players in the country; they have other kids playing well,” Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff said.

Rutgers previously lost four straight games before upsetting then-No. 13 Michigan. While their conference record shows otherwise, the Scarlet Knights are not a team to be taken lightly. McGuff said limiting Scaife will be a priority, but emphasized the importance of playing strong team defense.

“Really talented, great defensive team, they got a lot of athletic ability,” McGuff said. “Sometimes we can overwhelm people with speed, quickness and athletic ability, but that’s not going to be the case on Thursday.”

In its last game, Rutgers was able to pull off a 63-56 win against Michigan, a team Ohio State has struggled against in two meetings this season. Ohio State won in overtime at Michigan, but lost on its home floor a week later.

Thursday’s matchup will be the only matchup between Rutgers and Ohio State this season, and their first meeting since Ohio State’s 28-point win last February.

Ohio State will lean on seniors Kelsey Mitchell and Stephanie Mavunga against the Scarlet Knights. Mitchell leads the Big Ten with 24.5 points per game, while Mavunga averages a double-double with 15.8 points per game and 10.8 rebounds per game.

Injury hampers rotation

Redshirt junior forward Makayla Waterman sustained a neck injury in the third quarter of Saturday’s game against Wisconsin. She was carted off the court and taken to a local hospital.

Waterman has since been released from the hospital and is back with the team. After initially being put in a neck brace for precautionary reasons, Waterman said she was told she had no structural damage to her vertebrae and could remove the brace. McGuff said she is now day-to-day with a stiff neck. She said she is prioritizing her range of motion and doing her best to loosen up and get back with the team.

Ohio State is already challenged with depth, given it plays a tight eight-player rotation. With the lack of depth, an injury to Waterman will be noticeable and she will be missed on the court. Waterman, who plays almost 17 minutes per game, is fourth on the team in rebounds with 3.9 per game and assists with 1.3 per game.

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