Less than a week after clinching the outright Big Ten regular-season championship, the Ohio State women’s basketball team will head to Indianapolis as the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament with hopes of claiming its second conference championship of the season. The team won its final eight games in conference play to close out its regular season as Big Ten champions.
With two byes, No. 12 Ohio State (24-6, 13-3 Big Ten) automatically jumps into the quarterfinal and will face Rutgers on Friday at noon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The ninth-seeded Scarlet Knights beat eighth-seeded Purdue 62-60 on Thursday to set up the showdown.
Earlier this season, the Buckeyes knocked off the Scarlet Knights 90-68 for an easy victory. Rutgers redshirt senior guard Tyler Scaife dropped 27 points in the meeting between the two teams and scored a team-high 19 points in her team’s win against Rutgers. She is the only player on her team who averages more than 7.5 points per game. The Scarlet Knights ended the regular season having lost four of their last five games.
Senior guards Kelsey Mitchell and Linnae Harper and forward Stephanie Mavunga have been part of a successful Ohio State basketball program, but they have fallen short in the Big Ten tournament, having never won the tournament.
“It would mean a lot, for the seniors, we have five seniors and we’ve all worked so hard,” Harper said. “Coming from being conferenece champions, getting another ring, and aiming towards the tournament championship would be great for us.”
Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff has focused on his team taking a game-by-game approach, which his players echoed.
“I really am only worried about that first game and really that’s all I want our kids focused on, is the first game,” McGuff said on Wednesday. “We’ll prepare Thursday night over there once we know who we’re playing with film and talking through some things at the hotel. I just want them to really stay focused on the process of getting ready for Friday’s game.”
Although the Buckeyes went 13-3 in Big Ten play, there are still some unanswered questions about them going up against the conference’s top teams, which have given them problems this year. Their three losses against conference opponents came during a three-game losing streak in mid-January.
Barring either team being upset, Ohio State will face Iowa in the semifinals. As a result, the top scorer in the nation, Hawkeye junior forward Megan Gustafson, would face Mitchell, the third-highest scorer in the country. Iowa got the better of Ohio State in the previous meeting, beating the Buckeyes 103-89 behind Gustafson’s 29-point game.
Even if Ohio State beat Rutgers and its opponent in the semifinals, it might have to face No. 2 Maryland in the championship game.
The No. 17 Terrapins gave the Buckeyes their worst defeat of the season amind the losing streak, blowing them out 99-69. Terrapin sophomore guard Kaila Charles scored 32 points on 12-of-16 shooting in her team’s win, while the team shot 54.9 percent from the field and 61.1 percent from beyond the arc.
Maryland has won the past three conference tournaments and though it enters as a second seed, it could be viewed as the favorite over Ohio State.
Exiting the Big Ten tournament as champions could go a long way for the Buckeyes. They have beat the teams they’re supposed to, but have come up short against many highly regarded teams this season. Potential wins against Iowa and Maryland would be a tremendous confident boost prior to attempting to make a run in the NCAA tournament.