Ohio State women’s basketball is hot off of two straight Big Ten wins, and another would vault the Buckeyes toward the top of the conference standings.
First, the Buckeyes (10-6, 3-2 Big Ten) have to get past Michigan State (9-7, 2-3) on the Spartans’ home court Thursday.
The recent wins have changed the outlook for an Ohio State team stuck on one conference win a week ago.
“It’s building our confidence,” freshman guard Kierstan Bell said. “When we lose, we get down on ourselves. But we’ve just gotta focus on the next game.”
Bell has been gaining confidence of her own, having won her second consecutive Big Ten Freshman of the Week award and garnering praise from fellow Canton, Ohio, native and NBA player CJ McCollum, of the Portland Trail Blazers.
“When I get [awards], I’m excited, but that’s not really the main goal. The main goal is to keep getting better and winning games,” she said. “We’ve just gotta stay consistent and that’s the main thing I’m focused on.”
Michigan State has a pair of prolific guards of its own in sophomore Nia Clouden and senior Taryn McCutcheon, who lead the team with 15.2 and 11.8 points per game, respectively.
“No question, it’ll be hard — they’re very experienced, and their kids are used to playing in big games, while our kids are still trying to get used to it,” head coach Kevin McGuff said. “It’s certainly a challenge but it is what it is, so we’ll show up and compete on Thursday.”
Michigan State is currently 7-0 at home, providing another challenge for the Buckeyes, who are 6-3 on the road.
“They’re really talented. They defend, they’re really good on the boards and they’ve got some strong players, so it’ll be challenging,” McGuff said. “We’re gonna have to play really hard. They play hard, and they compete. They do that everywhere, but especially at home, so we’re gonna have to be at our very best to give ourselves a chance to win there.”
Bell, freshman guard Jacy Sheldon and sophomore forward Dorka Juhasz lead the Buckeyes in scoring this season, averaging a combined 31.8 points per game.
“[The three of us] just need to put the ball in the basket,” Bell said. “We need to work with each other, not worry so much about ourselves and do it for the next teammate.”
Sheldon was heavily guarded for most of the Michigan and Penn State games. She totaled only five points against the Nittany Lions, while the Wolverines shut her down completely.
“I missed some shots, but I’m just gonna keep shooting and doing what’s best for our team,” Sheldon said. “We’re all really competitive, so we’ll be ready, but we’ve gotta keep that fight and energy that we’ve had the past few games.”
Along with Sheldon, Bell said the team’s success comes with the amount of energy it brings. She and sophomore guard Janai Crooms have helped energize the team during moments of lethargy.
“When [Bell’s] bringing that energy, it’s contagious, and it’s really important she does that consistently,” head coach Kevin McGuff said.
McGuff knows his young team — consisting of 10 underclassmen and just two upperclassmen — will be under pressure against the more experienced Spartans. Michigan State’s roster features seven players with at least three years of collegiate experience.
Ohio State and Michigan State tip off at 6 p.m. Thursday in East Lansing, Michigan.