In Friday’s first-round game against Western Kentucky, Shayla Cooper, Ohio State’s third-leading scorer, went just 3-for-11 from the field and had six points, but found a way to help the fifth-seeded Buckeyes amid the absence of redshirt junior forward Stephanie Mavunga (foot), chipping in with 15 rebounds.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Shayla Cooper knows this will all soon end, but she’s hoping for at least a few extensions to her final season at Ohio State.

The senior forward has been trying to enjoy the little things. She’s had her senior day and will graduate with a communications degree in May, but there’s nothing quite like taking a final crack at the NCAA Tournament.

“Yeah, it’s definitely a bittersweet moment. You never want it to end, but at some point in time it will,” she said Saturday. “I’m just going to play hard for the team and do whatever it takes to take us to the finals.”

The 6-foot-2 forward knows “things get a little hectic” around tournament time and each game has its nervy moments, but she said she’s tried to be a calming influence.

In Friday’s first-round game against Western Kentucky, Cooper, Ohio State’s third-leading scorer, went just 3-for-11 from the field and had six points, but found a way to help the fifth-seeded Buckeyes amid the absence of redshirt junior forward Stephanie Mavunga (foot).

“When my shot’s not falling, I try to do other things that affect the game,” she said. “I just saw an article that said I had a season-high 15 rebounds. I didn’t know until I got to the (post-game) press conference, so that was a great thing. I knew getting I was ‘em, but I didn’t know it was something like that.”

The Buckeyes have been without Mavunga since early February and have finished ahead of their opponent in rebounding in just three of the seven games she’s missed, but Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said the Buckeyes have fared better on the glass than he would have expected because of players like Cooper, junior Alexa Hart and freshman Tori McCoy.

“To lose your top rebounder and to still not get hurt that badly, I think Shayla Cooper was really good on the boards yesterday, she’s stepped up a little bit, too,” McGuff said. “So, you’re not going to compensate for Steph with one person, but collectively, I think we’ve done a pretty good job.”

Are we having fun yet?

Kentucky’s 73-70 win over Belmont on Friday produced an exciting finish. Those in attendance at Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum were treated to an emotional, back-and-forth game in which the Bruins nearly knocked off the host team.

Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said Saturday he was proud of his team’s performance, but didn’t consider the game “fun,” asked about Belmont coach Cameron Newbauer’s description shortly after the game.

“Well, (Newbauer) was looking at it a little different than I was,” Mitchell said. “My idea of fun is maybe playing a round of golf or maybe going out and sitting on a beach for a few hours. That was a really challenging game yesterday. But if you’re a fan, if I don’t have any skin in the game and I’m just watching the men’s tournament or the women’s tournament and they’re going back and forth (it’s fun). Like, I heard yesterday Oregon State and Long Beach State was a great game. So, as a fan I might enjoy watching that.”

Epps a leader for Kentucky

Kentucky senior guard Makayla Epps had 30 points in Kentucky’s Friday win and is the driving force behind the Wildcats’ offense.

Describing Epps on Saturday, McGuff used a line many coaches have used to explain their approach to Kelsey Mitchell this season: “We’re not going to stop her, but we hopefully can slow her down a little bit and not let her go crazy.”

“Epps is playing great. She’s playing fantastic basketball right now,” McGuff said. “The thing I really love about her, she really manages the game for Kentucky. She kind of has a knack where she knows when to speed it up, she knows when to slow it down and she makes sure everyone is in the right position. She’s displaying great leadership, so she’s playing really, really well right now.”

He said it

“It’s hard. You have a quick turnaround (and) it’s obviously the same for both of us. I think what it comes down to is that we kind of have to be the best version of ourselves and really focus to make sure we’re doing the things that make us special. If we had a week to prepare for them, maybe we’d do some different things, but there won’t be a lot that we do differently because it’s such a quick turnaround.”

-- McGuff, on facing two new teams in three days