LEXINGTON, Ky. – A footnote to Ohio State’s 82-68 win over Kentucky on Sunday, a victory that vaulted the Buckeyes to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year, was junior guard Kelsey Mitchell becoming the Big Ten’s all-time leader in career three-pointers.

“Thank you,” Mitchell said multiple times in response to a postgame question about the milestone, before getting into her real answer.

“All I can say to that comment is ‘survive and advance,’” Mitchell said. “It’s no longer about myself, it’s about us as a team and I think we want to advance as much as possible in this tournament.”

“Survive and advance” is a common refrain around NCAA Tournament time and a colorful way of explaining winning is more important than passing the eye test. It’s one Mitchell has used several times this week to explain her mindset and a line she returned to Sunday in the hallway of Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum after the fifth-seeded Buckeyes (28-6) nearly squandered a 19-point lead before pulling away. 

“As far as surviving and advancing, you have to survive first, right?” Mitchell said.

After building a 46-31 lead by halftime, the Buckeyes continued to add to their lead to open the third quarter. Freshman forward Tori McCoy opened the third-quarter scoring with a layup. Another from redshirt sophomore guard Sierra Calhoun less than a minute later gave Ohio State a 50-31 advantage, its largest of the game.

It was a wakeup call for fourth-seeded Kentucky (22-11), which responded by narrowing the gap to eight points by the end of the third quarter, to 62-58 in the first 90 seconds of the fourth quarter and to 65-64 on a Makayla Epps baseline jumper with 6:04 to play.

“We had dug ourselves a 15-point hole at the half,” said Epps, who led Kentucky with 21 points. “We might have been a little deflated but we were never defeated going into the break.”  

Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said his message to his team as a once out-of-reach game began to turn was a simple one.

“I just told the team to get back to the things that we were doing,” McGuff said. “What we talked about in timeouts was getting back to balancing our offense, making sure we get to the free-throw line and get to the rim and then we have to buckle down, get stops and get some tough rebounds.”

Junior guard Asia Doss made the first step in slowing Kentucky’s momentum with a layup, then McCoy scored the game’s next six points.

“As the crowd was going, I was kind of getting a little bit nervous,” said McCoy, who finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. “But we made it through.”

Senior forward Shayla Cooper finished off the Wildcats with eight points in the final 2:28.

Cooper finished with 15 points, Mitchell led Ohio State with 21 points – 19 in the first half – and Calhoun chipped in with 10 points.  

Linnae Harper had 12 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists against Kentucky, where she played two seasons before transferring to Ohio State.

Ohio State’s reward for back-to-back wins against Kentucky schools in Kentucky is an extra dose of Kentucky.

A Sweet 16 date against the winner of a Sunday night game between No. 1 seed Notre Dame and No. 9 seed Purdue is a ways off on the calendar – the Buckeyes will play at a to-be-determined time Friday – but close in proximity.

Ohio State’s tournament run continues next weekend at Lexington’s Rupp Arena, just over a mile away from where the Buckeyes twice survived and advanced.

The Buckeyes began the second quarter with a 16-6 run and built a 46-31 halftime lead behind Mitchell’s 19 first-half points.