Ohio State got the best news possible Saturday when it learned that Makayla Waterman had suffered only a strained neck after a scary fall earlier in the day in a game at Wisconsin.
“Fortunately everything worked out,” coach Kevin McGuff said Tuesday of the junior forward. “We’re going to go day by day just based on how she’s feeling. She’s still a little sore and working on her range of motion, so we’ll call it day by day.”
The Buckeyes breathed a sigh of relief, but only briefly.
With Waterman’s status uncertain for a game Thursday night against Rutgers, there’s a chance an already small rotation will have to undergo further juggling. If Waterman is limited or held out, that would leave just two post players — Stephanie Mavunga and Alexa Hart — available for the No. 13 Buckeyes (19-5, 8-3 Big Ten).
“Not much,” McGuff said of what might change with one fewer player. “(Hart) may have to play more minutes, potentially.”
Sophomore guard Jensen Caretti likely would see more time, too.
Keeping consistent energy against Rutgers even with the potential for a higher minutes load will be important, Mavunga said.
“You want to be the same player in that sense in terms of never wanting to be a player that lacks energy, but you just know you’ve got to be smart,” Mavunga said. “That’s every game, but you have to be a little bit more careful when it comes to foul trouble or things of that nature. You’ve got to build your wind up. You’ve got to be ready to prepare in tough situations.”
The Scarlet Knights (18-7, 6-5) don’t score nearly as well as the Buckeyes — Tyler Scaife leads the team with 19.2 points per game, 12 points clear of the team’s No. 2 scorer, Stasha Carey — but the teams present an interesting challenge of Big Ten bests.
Ohio State is averaging a Big Ten-high 86 points. Rutgers has limited opponents to a conference-low 57.1 points per game.
“They’ve got a lot of athletic ability,” McGuff said. “Sometimes we can overwhelm people with speed and quickness and athletic ability, but that’s not going to be the case on Thursday.”
The matchup might have drawn an additional raised eyebrow or two Sunday, when the Scarlet Knights snapped a four-game losing streak with a 63-56 win over Michigan, their first victory over a ranked opponent this season. The upset was another reminder to McGuff and the Buckeyes of the Big Ten's depth.
"It's tough to beat people. There’s a lot of great teams," McGuff said. "It’s a great year for the Big Ten, and it's just a tough conference to go through."