Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said he took a liking to his four-guard lineup last Sunday in a 110-80 exhibition win over Ashland.

And it might be what the Buckeyes trot out to start the women’s basketball season.

With Alexa Hart (right ankle sprain) and Makayla Waterman (knee) held out against Ashland, OSU started four guards (Kelsey Mitchell, Asia Doss, Sierra Calhoun and Linnae Harper) and one forward (Stephanie Mavunga), with Harper dropping down and playing power forward.

Of McGuff’s 15 lineup combinations, that starting lineup was the most used, clocking 12 minutes, 8 seconds together. And it proved to be the most effective as well, outscoring Ashland 23-12.

Playing small was more of a necessity, but Waterman is expected to return for an exhibition Sunday against Division II Urbana.

McGuff said he is hopeful that Hart will return for the regular-season opener on Nov. 10 against Stanford. She had been wearing a walking boot on her right ankle but shed it during the week.

But if the Buckeyes are required to play small, McGuff believes they are equipped to do so.

“I thought the small lineup was really good offensively. And, at times, fine defensively and at times not as good as I’d like,” McGuff said. “I think at times we can be really fast, and it can be really hard to guard our offense. And we should be really good defensively, too. Because when we play a little bit smaller defensively with Linnae (Harper), she can make up for that with her physical play and her knack for rebounding.”

As McGuff alluded to Harper being a catalyst to the Buckeyes’ small-ball lineup, with her being strong enough to mark forwards despite being listed at only 5 feet 8.

“She’s a strong, physical guard, she knows what she is doing. She’s not a little one, for sure," Mavunga said. "She has a really big presence when it comes to the defensive end, rebounding, getting steals, all that stuff. We still miss Alexa and Makayla a ton, but so far Linnae’s doing a really good job picking up the slack.”

Mavunga especially misses Hart, who would add another body to the forward rotation and present more opportunities for her to get the occasional breather. But, unlike previous seasons, Mavunga is more prepared to take on heavy minutes.

“Of course, it’s much different from last year. I’m not used to playing as many minutes,” she said. “But I’ve done a lot of preseason conditioning and a lot of other stuff to change and prepare my body for longer minutes this year with less bodies and less people in the rotation.”

jhorton@dispatch.com

@joshhorton22