Ohio State women’s basketball is primed to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament after it closed the regular season with seven wins in its final nine games.
The Buckeyes (18-11, 11-7 Big Ten) are locked into the No. 6 seed in the tournament in Indianapolis and will play No. 11-seed Minnesota (16-14, 6-13) Thursday.
“Everybody’s mindset is like, ‘Hey, we can do it. We just have to focus on each game,’” sophomore forward Dorka Juhasz said.
Ohio State played its best basketball in February, opening the seven-of-nine stretch on a six-game winning streak. It then dropped back-to-back contests against Rutgers and Northwestern before closing the season with a blowout win at Purdue.
The Buckeyes’ improved play in February had them in position to earn a double-bye with just three games remaining in the season, but the back-to-back losses pushed them out of reach of Indiana for the No. 4 seed.
The loss to Rutgers gave the Scarlet Knights the tiebreaker and the No. 5 seed.
In those back-to-back losses, the Buckeyes were without All-Big Ten freshman guard Kierstan Bell, who was unavailable for personal reasons.
“It’s just so good to have her back,” Juhasz said. “She’s just a key for this team with both her energy and talent.”
Bell has been a spark plug off the bench for the Buckeyes, averaging 11.1 points per game and 4.6 rebounds. She has made a team-high 47 3-pointers this season, shooting 32 percent from beyond the arc.
Juhasz earned a spot on the All-Big Ten first team thanks to team-high marks of 13.3 points and 9.1 rebounds.
“This year, she’s been very consistent,” Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff said. “She’s really shown her great versatility, where she’s extremely effective around the basket. She can also shoot from three and score from the perimeter in a variety of ways.”
Her play surged in February, especially on the boards, where she averaged 10.7 rebounds during eight games played.
She closed the season with four straight double-doubles, which matched her total to that point, finishing with eight on the year.
“I feel much more confident,” Juhasz said. “I’m just really trying to leave my mark on the court every time I step on it.”
The Buckeyes relied heavily on the 3-pointer throughout Big Ten play, hitting a conference-high eight per game. They shot the 3 more than any other team during conference play — the only team to shoot more than 400 attempts.
McGuff said that with the tournament draw, the Buckeyes expect to see a heavy amount of zone defense to counter their 3-point attack.
“We’ll see some zone and so we’re going to have to make shots from the perimeter,” McGuff said. “Hopefully we can shoot it well from there and that will be a big deal for us.”
When it comes to their possible second-round opponents, the Buckeyes were a combined 3-0 against them. They got the better of Minnesota with 66-63 and 99-76 victories.
Ohio State has six freshmen on the active roster and enters the tournament one of the younger teams in the conference. Juhasz said she doesn’t think the lack of experience will affect the Buckeyes chances in Indianapolis.
“We have a really young team so we have a lot to prove,” Juhasz said. “Everybody is excited and I think we’re ready to go.”
Ohio State will start its tournament campaign at 8:55 p.m. Thursday in Indianapolis.