Ohio State was so in tune and, thus, so unstoppable that Penn State players might as well have been cardboard standups Wednesday night at Value City Arena.
When Kelsey Mitchell hit the second of two straight bombs from three-point range a little more than six minutes into the first quarter, the lead had swelled to 20-5.
Nittany Lions coach Coquese Washington called a second timeout, but it was obvious by her players’ body language that there would be no coming back from that deep a hole.
The Buckeyes won 94-64 in a game that had an exhibition game-like feel against a small college in November.
Wait a minute. Wasn’t this the same Ohio State team that fell apart in the final stages of an 84-75 loss against Michigan? Wasn’t this the same bunch that was humiliated 99-69 at Maryland and run out of Carver-Hawkeye Arena by Iowa 103-89?
Fifth-year coach Kevin McGuff was asked about how the players can look like a top-10 team one game and out of step the next.
“If I totally had the answer to that I’d write a book and be a millionaire instantly because a lot of people are searching for that answer of what is it that can keep your team focused and locked in all the time,’’ he said. “I think for us it’s usually how we practice — practicing the right way.’’
McGuff has really liked the way the Buckeyes have been practicing of late. Senior guard Linnae Harper said the three straight losses were “a wakeup call.’’
Those games were a kick in the tail for a program that is working on a fourth straight appearance in the NCAA tournament, and that includes two straight Sweet 16 appearances.
Harper said the two-game winning streak is the product of players knowing it’s time to kick things into gear.
“We’re pretty much a veteran team,’’ Harper said. “We have experience on our side. I think it’s just a level of focus.’’
Ohio State had a season-high 23 assists. The ball movement was so rat-a-tat-tat that Mitchell mostly shot uncontested jump shots or drove with defenders flailing at her. She scored 27 points.
“I thought our ball movement and making the extra pass was as good as it has been all season,’’ McGuff said. “There are things the last two games that we weren’t doing too well earlier in the year, which is getting the ball inside. That just gives us more balance in our offense, and things seem to flow a little better.’’
Washington had her own take about why her team was beaten so badly, and she has to be listened to intently. She played on Notre Dame’s 2001 national championship team, played nine seasons in the WNBA, is past president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association and has won 194 games as a coach.
Her opinion is that Ohio State wasn’t overmatched at all athletically against Michigan, Maryland and Iowa. Her take was there were matchup problems similar to those her team had against the Buckeyes.
“It’s a very highly competitive league, and a lot of it comes down to matchups,’’ she said. “We have a conference, a league, where there are there are a lot of different styles of play. When you match up against a team that can present problems for you — regardless of your record or their record — it can be a long night for you.’’
The Big Ten has three teams in The Associated Press Top 25, Maryland at No. 11, Michigan at 13 and Ohio State at 18. Five teams have won 17 or more games and Nebraska has won 16.
Matchups definitely were a problem for Penn State. McGuff often played four guards, and the quickness factor was obvious. But frontcourt players Stephanie Mavunga, Alexa Hart and Makayla Waterman also had their way inside.
“When you match up where their strength is your weakness, it can be a long night,’’ Washington said. “On most nights, Ohio State is a tough matchup for most teams in the country. They are an outstanding team, one of the nation’s best teams. Some nights, the other team just matches up (better). When the matchups fall the right way, they can be beat.’’
The Buckeyes, she said, weren’t more hyped to play against her team than they were Michigan, Maryland and Iowa.
“I don’t think Ohio State plays harder or not hard against some teams,’’ she said. “I think they play hard. They are outstanding in their ability to score. Some nights I just think there are matchup issues.’’