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Women’s Basketball: Ohio State hopes to right ship against woeful Illinois

Ohio State senior guard Kelsey Mitchell takes a shot during the third quarter of the Buckeyes’ victory against Penn State on Jan. 31. Credit: James King | Sports Director

It seemed like the No. 16 Ohio State women’s basketball team had righted a sinking ship.

After dropping three games in a row to No. 23 Michigan, No. 10 Maryland and Iowa, the Buckeyes responded with four straight victories in which they held opponents to fewer than 68 points. Redshirt senior guard Linnae Harper said the team used the losing streak as motivation and it showed in the past four games.

But the only thing that showed during Ohio State’s game against South Florida Sunday afternoon was an overmatched Buckeye team getting beat in every phase of the game, resulting in an 84-65 loss.

Ohio State (20-6, 9-3 Big Ten) has a prime chance to bounce back facing Illinois (9-17, 0-12 Big Ten), the lowest-ranked team in the Big Ten, at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Champaign, Illinois.

Projected Starters

Ohio State:

G — Asia Doss — Senior, 5-foot-7, 8.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.5 apg

G — Kelsey Mitchell — Senior, 5-foot-8, 24.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.1 apg

G — Linnae Harper — Redshirt senior, 5-foot-8, 15.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.5 apg

G — Sierra Calhoun — Redshirt junior, 6-foot, 11.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.2 apg

F — Stephanie Mavunga — Redshirt senior, 6-foot-3, 16.1 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 0.7 apg

Illinois:

G — Brandi Beasley — Sophomore, 5-foot-6, 11.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.6 apg

G — Cierra Rice — Redshirt sophomore, 5-foot-9, 5.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0.9 apg

G — Kennedy Cattenhead — Redshirt senior, 5-foot-10, 5.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 0.5 apg

F — Courtney Joens — Sophomore, 5-foot-10, 3.5 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 0.4 apg

F — Alex Wittinger — Sophomore, 6-foot-1, 13.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 0.8 apg

Scouting Illinois

Simply put, Ohio State should crush Illinois. The Illini have not lost a conference game by fewer than eight points and do nothing that will scare Ohio State. Illinois has a minus-9.7 scoring margin, the worst in the Big Ten and 5.5 points worse than the second-lowest scoring margin.

Opponents have a better shooting percentage from 3-point range (38.2) than the Illini have from the field (37.9 percent). That will pose a problem Tuesday night since the Buckeyes shoot more 3-pointers than any other team in the Big Ten. Four Ohio State guards — Asia Doss, Kelsey Mitchell, Linnae Harper and Sierra Calhoun — average at least 3.4 3-point attempts per game, and Mitchell broke the NCAA record for most career 3s attempted last game.

Sophomore guard Brandi Beasley and sophomore forward Alex Wittinger have been the most consistent producers for Illinois. They are their team’s only two players who average more than 10 points per game. No one else scores more than seven points per game.

But neither player should do much damage against Ohio State. Wittinger will need a big game for her team to hang with the Buckeyes, but she has scored at least 20 points just four times this season. Beasley shoots just 35.8 percent from the field and 25 percent from beyond the arc.

Though Ohio State should easily leave Champaign, Illinois, with a victory against the Illini, it will be looking for certain areas of improvement.

The Buckeyes have struggled rebounding this season, leading to teams dominating them with second-chance points. Last game, South Florida outrebounded Ohio State by 20.

“Bad defense and rebounding for us usually run together. You’ll see us over-helping, which means we’re not blocking out,” Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff said. “When we’re bad defensively, we’re usually bad on the boards as well because it usually means we’re not matched up with the right people.”

Illinois has somehow struggled more on the boards. The Buckeyes average 0.2 more rebounds per game than their opponents, while the Illini average a 2.6-rebounding deficit, tied for last in the conference.

Cinderella story?

At the beginning of the year, Ohio State had Final Four dreams. Those aspirations have since taken a massive hit given its four losses in the past eight games. The dreams seem so far-fetched that Harper believes the team is seen as more of an outside contender

“The good thing about it is we still have a lot of basketball to play and we still have a good chance to turn it around,” Harper said. “We can use it as motivation for our next game and try to come together as a team and hopefully make it a Cinderella story or something like that.”

If anything, a team destined to be the subject of a Cinderella story certainly would have seemed to be the Ohio State men’s basketball team. But instead, the women’s team is searching for answers.

As McGuff has said in the past, Ohio State just needs to get hot at the right time. But the slipper becomes a looser fit with each passing loss.

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