INDIANAPOLIS – There are never any worries about the level of talent when Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff sends his team out for tip-off, especially the players with the names Mitchell, Mavunga, Calhoun, Doss, Hart and Harper printed on their backs.
With this team, the concern has been what level of effort the Buckeyes will put out at the defensive end.
McGuff saw a lot of hustle during a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal against Rutgers even though he chose not to start ball-hawking senior guard Asia Doss because of a sprained right ankle.
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Ohio State (25-6) came up with 11 steals and bothered the Scarlet Knights into 32.4 shooting overall (22-for-68) and 22.7 percent (5-for-22) from three-point range.
The solid work enabled the Buckeyes to advance to a semifinal against Minnesota (23-7) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Another victory could secure Ohio State home-court for the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament.
C. Vivian Stringer of Rutgers, who has been coaching 47 seasons, said Ohio State was too much for her team. The Knights staggered into this tournament having lost 9 of 11 games.
“I feel like we went through a grinder, so what else can I say?’’ she said. “I think it would have been the easiest thing for me to do to go past this and act like it didn’t happen. But I’ve got to give a great deal of credit to the play of Ohio State. They played brilliantly. Honestly, we were just overpowered.’’
Stringer said the Knights started with poise, but that Ohio State having Kelsey Mitchell (22), Stephanie Mavunga (18), Sierra Calhoun (14) and Alexa Hart (10) score in double figures was too much to overcome.
Guard Linnae Harper just missed getting into double figures with nine points, but filled the stat sheet with six rebounds, two assists and two steals.
The players had Monday and Tuesday off after finishing the regular season with an 89-64 smacking of Penn State last Sunday. Practice resumed Wednesday and Thursday.
McGuff has been like everyone else in wondering what type of energy his team will put out on a game-by-game basis. Maybe he and Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue should chat over lunch sometime soon.
There was nothing to get upset about against Rutgers.
“I think we got it right as to how we played on that end of the floor, the defensive end,’’ McGuff said.
Doss had played in 134 straight games, or every single game since she laced on a pair of sneakers for Ohio State. She has 173 career steals and 51 this season to lead the team.
Her absence gave McGuff one less option, and he had few with a healthy Doss.
Enter senior Alexa Hart. She started in place of Doss and sophomore guard Jensen Caretti moved up to the second player off the bench behind Makayla Waterman.
Hart provided a lot of energy in scoring 10 points and taking in six rebounds. Her braids were dyed scarlet and there often was a wide smile on her face.
“Yeah, you know I’ve got a lot of confidence in all of our players, certainly Alexa being one,’’ McGuff said. “She is a fantastic player. She has played a lot of hard, tough minutes over her career here, and my expectation was that she would play well. I have the same expectation for tomorrow.’’
Stephanie Mavunga, a senior center, turned her game around after a nightmarish first half in which she was called for three fouls. This was a fairly big game for her because she grew up 30 minutes away in Brownsburg, Ind.
Mavunga was on the bench for her first two Big Ten tournament here, the first because she transferred from North Carolina and last season because of a foot injury.
Things changed rapidly when Mavunga scored the Buckeyes first three baskets of the third quarter, a follow-up, baby hook and layup. A layup with 5:34 left in the quarter provided a 54-28 lead, and it was so long, Rutgers.
GOPHERS UP NEXT
Ohio State might have gotten a break when Minnesota defeated Iowa 90-89 in a quarterfinal. On paper, it wasn’t an upset because the Gophers are the fourth seed and Hawkeyes the fifth.
Matchups, though, are huge in college basketball, and the Buckeyes could not defend 6-foot-3 Iowa junior center Megan Gustafson in a 103-89 loss on Jan. 25 in Iowa City. Gustafson scored 29 points and blocked three shots. Guards Kathleen Doyle and Makenzie Meyer each hit four three-pointers.
Ohio State ran over Minnesota 91-75 on Jan. 4 in Columbus. The lead was 64-29 going into the fourth quarter, when McGuff began to empty his bench.
The Gophers’ up-and-down game is similar to the Buckeyes. The shot clock is not a concern.
Minnesota has four players scoring in double figures, 5-9 senior guard Kenisha Bell (19.8), 5-10 senior Carlie Wagner (18.6), 5-9 sophomore Gadiva Hubbard (13.6) and 5-10 freshman Destiny Pitts (13.2).
The team’s inside presence is 6-2 sophomore Taiye Bello (6.2 points, 6.6 rebounds) and 6-3 senior Jessie Edwards (4.9 points, 5.3 rebounds). Pitts is the leading rebounder at 7.3.
In the regular season game, Mavunga had a field day scoring 25 points and getting five rebounds.
The Gophers were 13-for-35 from three-point range and had 17 turnovers.