Two seasons ago, Ohio State played two of its final three Big Ten games against top-third conference opponents, lost both and lost out on a share of the regular-season title.
It’s a stretch that senior guard Asia Doss remembers well, and one that comes to mind again as No. 10 Ohio State travels to No. 22 Michigan on Sunday for its first game against a ranked opponent since a Nov. 30 loss to No. 16 Duke.
The game in Ann Arbor kicks off a stretch of four out of five in which Ohio State faces a ranked opponent. The Buckeyes (14-2, 3-0 Big Ten) have not faced a similar stretch since playing four-straight Big Ten games against ranked opponents from Feb. 6 to 20, 2014, during coach Kevin McGuff’s first season.
“I think it will show our maturity because in the past we’ve had these opportunities, and we haven’t capitalized on them,” Doss said. “I think it’ll show our maturity and our mental ability to be on task.”
Also evident, McGuff said, are the strength of the Big Ten this season and perhaps the Buckeyes’ misfortune of playing the conference’s best teams in a span of less than three weeks, and having only one of those games at Value City Arena.
After a game Jan. 25 at No. 18 Iowa, the Buckeyes’ final eight Big Ten games come against unranked teams, and five of the eight are at Value City Arena.
“I think we’re going to find out how good we are,” McGuff said of the next few weeks. “It’s going to be a good measuring stick that way, and it always comes back to learning where we need to improve."
Sunday’s game features the conference’s top two scorers: Ohio State senior guard Kelsey Mitchell and Michigan senior guard Katelynn Flaherty, who torched the Buckeyes for 38 points in Michigan’s 96-87 loss at Ohio State exactly a year ago.
It was a performance that McGuff and Ohio State players have referenced a few times since. Flaherty found a rhythm early and made the Buckeyes pay.
“She’s such a great player that whenever you let her get comfortable, you’re probably in for a long night,” McGuff said. “We did that last year; she got comfortable really early and just killed us all night.”
Even if the Buckeyes do prevail over the Wolverines on Sunday, they won’t think too much of it, Doss said. Michigan will be waiting again right around the corner.
“We still have to take it one game at a time because literally everybody’s going to give us their best shot,” she said. “We turn around and play them one game later (Jan. 16), so it’s like you can’t ride too high on that.”