In the quarterfinals of the 2019 U19 International Basketball Federation Women’s World Cup, Spain went toe to toe with a red-hot Chinese team coming off of a 71-28 opening round win against Mozambique.
A missed game-tying 3-pointer from China guard Ming Zheng was scooped up by Spain forward Aixa Wone Aranaz to secure a 55-52 victory for Spain.
The Ohio State freshman was the hero that day. She had her best outing of the tournament, finishing with 14 points, nine rebounds and three assists.
“When we won against [China], we were like, ‘Oh, my God. We’re in the semifinals,’” Wone Aranaz said. “We were all crying and super happy.”
Eight months later, Wone Aranaz and two other European players with international experience are helping Ohio State women’s basketball in its drive toward an NCAA Tournament berth.
Sophomore forward Dorka Juhasz of Hungary has become an essential part of this Buckeye squad as she leads the team in both scoring and rebounding. Freshman forward Rebeka Mikulasikova, a native of Slovakia, has played a key role for the Buckeyes off the bench.
Juhasz played a similar role for the 2017 U19 Hungarian women’s national team, leading the squad in player efficiency rating. Her experience from that tournament helped her settle into her position at Ohio State, she said.
“It definitely prepared me a lot,” Juhasz said. “I matured a lot and gained more basketball IQ.”
Juhasz attributed much of her growth to the level of competition she has experienced because she was playing both with and against professional talent.
“They taught me to be a pro, not just on the court but off the court as well,” Juhasz said. “That definitely gave me an experience boost.”
Mikulasikova was the youngest member of the Slovakia women’s national team at the FIBA EuroBasket Championship. She said her experience helped her transition into her freshman season, but she still needs to better apply some of the lessons she learned during international play at Ohio State.
“I need to take my experience from my national team and bring it here too,” Mikulasikova said.
The Slovakian native has fit into her role on the Buckeyes as the team’s most effective 3-point marksman, shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc.
Wone Aranaz brings a winning pedigree to the young Ohio State team, with a gold medal from the 2016 U16 FIBA EuroBasket Championship and a bronze medal in the 2019 U19 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
“When they give you the medal, you remember all the work and moments with your team,” Wone Aranaz said. “It’s so rewarding.”
It’s a feeling the Buckeyes are chasing as the regular season winds down.
All three players have gained experience in big games through their FIBA careers, which will be vital in the single-elimination Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. With such a young squad, Ohio State might need to lean more on its international players.
Mikulasikova stressed the importance of remaining in the moment and not looking too far ahead.
“The most important thing is focusing on the next step and the game we have ahead of us,” Mikulasikova said.
Head coach Kevin McGuff said he believes the experience of his international players will impact how the team continues to play during this stretch run and into the postseason.
“They have more experience than the typical young player we normally get,” McGuff said. “Hopefully they can help us push through this grind.”
While the team gears up for the postseason, Juhasz said she believes the pressure of tournament play will bring out the best in the team.
“I think it’s going to be really good for us,” Juhasz said. “We’re hungry.”