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Women’s Basketball: Ohio State preparing to take on juggernaut Maryland in Big Ten championship

Ohio State redshirt junior guard Sierra Calhoun attempts a shot during the Buckeyes’ game against Minnesota in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament on March 3, 2018. Ohio State won 90-88 to advance to the championship. Credit: Alyssia Graves | Assistant Sports Director

INDIANAPOLIS — The Ohio State women’s basketball team claimed an outright Big Ten regular-season championship and now it has its sights on winning the conference tournament for the first time since 2011.

In order to achieve that goal, the Buckeyes would have to knock off Maryland, which has won the past three Big Ten championship games by a combined margin of 29 points. The two teams met in the championship in 2015, and the Terrapins won 77-74.

On Jan. 22 in College Park, Maryland, Ohio State fell 99-69 to Maryland in its largest loss of the season despite all five starters scoring in double-figures. The top-seeded Buckeyes will have their shot at revenge in the Big Ten championship when they take on the second-seeded Terrapins at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis at 7 p.m. Sunday.

Projected Starters

Ohio State:

G — Kelsey Mitchell — Senior, 5-foot-8, 24.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.3 apg

G — Linnae Harper — Redshirt senior, 5-foot-8, 14.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.5 apg

G — Sierra Calhoun — Redshirt junior, 6-foot, 11.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.3 apg

F — Alexa Hart — Senior, 6-foot-3, 5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 0.9 apg

F — Stephanie Mavunga — Redshirt senior, 6-foot-3, 16.5 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 0.7 apg

Maryland:

G — Channise Lewis — Freshman, 5-foot-8, 5.4 ppg, 2 rpg, 4.8 apg

G — Kristen Confroy — Senior, 5-foot-9, 9.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.8 apg

G/F — Eleanna Christinaki — Junior, 6-foot, 12.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.5 apg

G — Kaila Charles — Sophomore, 6-foot-1, 18.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.2 apg

F — Stephanie Jones — Sophomore, 6-foot-2, 11.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 0.9 apg

Scouting Maryland

In the first meeting between Ohio State and Maryland this season, the Terrapins had their way. They shot 54.9 percent from the field and hit 11-of-18 3-pointers to bury the Buckeyes, who fell behind by double-digits less than five minutes into the game and never recovered.

In that game, junior guard/forward Eleanna Christinaki and guard Kalia Charles powered the Terrapins just as they have in most games. Christinaki dropped 26 points, went 6-for-11 from deep and grabbed eight rebounds while Charles had a game-high 32 points, making 12-of-16 shots from the field and 7-of-8 free throws.

The combination of defense, rebounding and a diverse scoring attack gave the Buckeyes major problems and figures to be a substantial challenge again.

The Terrapins hold opponents to 38.8 percent shooting from the field and hit 39 percent of their 3-pointers. They start senior guard Kristen Confroy, who averages the fourth-most points of the projected starters, but shoots a Big-Ten best of 44.2 percent from beyond the arc.

Though Maryland does not have any interior player as dominant as Ohio State redshirt senior forward Stephanie Mavunga — who picked up the first 20-point, 20-rebound game in Big Ten tournament history on Saturday — it maintains the second-best rebounding margin in the conference of plus-eight rebounds. The Terrapins showed that edge with a 47-32 rebounding advantage in the season’s first matchup against the Buckeyes.

Maryland (plus-17.1) and Ohio State (plus-14.1)  have the top scoring margins in the Big Ten, having blown out many teams this season. But they ended the season with different trajectories.

On Jan. 26, Maryland sat in first in the conference by two games after Ohio State lost three-straight games, including the 30-point defeat by the Terrapins. But the Buckeyes won eight of their final nine regular-season games and won the first two games of the conference tournament as well.

Maryland, however, lost three of its final four regular-season games to Purdue, Minnesota and Michigan to slip into second place and give Ohio State an opportunity to pounce on the regular-season title. It lost the three games by a combined margin of 35 points.

Regardless of how the Terrapins finished, they pose more challenges to the Buckeyes than any other team in the Big Ten.

If Ohio State can control the pace, keep Maryland off the offensive glass and keep Charles and Christinaki from getting hot, it has a chance to claim the championship. But that is a tall task for a team sans a starter that fell to the Terrapins by 30 points less than two months ago.

Still not tired?

The day before the Buckeyes opened the Big Ten tournament with a win against Rutgers, senior guard Asia Doss learned she would not play due to a sprained right ankle suffered in the regular-season finale. The loss of her squeezed Ohio State’s already-lacking depth even more.

In the quarterfinals, the Buckeyes took an early lead — and some key players got into foul trouble — which allowed them to give ample rest, playing seven core players between 18 and 33 minutes. But the next day against Minnesota, guards Kelsey Mitchell, Sierra Calhoun and Linnae Harper and forward Stephanie Mavunga played at least 34 minutes. Mitchell did not sit out a single minute.

With less than 24 hours between the end of that contest and the tip-off of the Buckeyes’ game against Maryland, fatigue would seem to be a struggle. But Mitchell and Mavunga don’t see that as an option.

“Well, if we want to win, and I think everybody wants to do that, we’re going to be okay,” Mitchell said. “We don’t have a choice.”

Mavunga quickly chimed in: “Coach McGuff said we’ll rest on Monday.”

Mitchell went so far as to say she enjoys the feeling of playing multiple games in subsequent days, which reminds her of AAU games with higher stakes.

“It feels good, like it feels good to be able to play games back to back and you don’t know who is going to win,” she said.

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