Kelsey Mitchell and her Ohio State teammates could be excused for letting their minds wander about 3 miles down the road this weekend, but the senior guard said it is vital not to.
It is no secret that Columbus will host the Women’s Final Four on March 30 at Nationwide Arena. But this weekend, Ohio State (27-6) is playing in the first two rounds of the tournament, taking on George Washington on Saturday at St. John Arena.
Despite having big-time goals as the third seed in the Spokane Regional, Mitchell said Friday the key is to stay in the present, “keep it as just any other game, try not to think too far ahead. With that being said, we’re just trying to focus on George Washington, what they bring to the table, how good they are, and try to win a game.”
A couple of major upsets in the men’s tournament the past two days magnified that stay-in-the-moment approach.
“You can’t take anyone lightly,” forward Stephanie Mavunga said. “So right now our focus is George Washington and everything that they bring. … We’re just trying to execute as best we can offensively and defensively.”
George Washington coach Jennifer Rizzotti, the superstar guard on Connecticut's undefeated run to its first national title in 1995, said there was no need to remind her players what can happen in the tournament.
“They're paying attention,” Rizzotti said. “We just won our tournament as a 5 seed, and the A-10 is no league to slough at. Our kids know what it takes to play against good competition.”
George Washington (19-13) rose to win the Atlantic 10 tournament, beating the league’s regular-season champion Dayton in a semifinal. The Colonials are spurred by junior guard Mei-Lyn Bautista, who had 26 assists and no turnovers during the three-game tournament run, and feature a lineup that includes Brianna Cummings in which all five are capable three-point shooters.
“They’re a great three point-shooting team, and they’re very smart and strategic,” Ohio State guard Linnae Harper said. “So it’s just important that we focus on our (scouting report) and make sure that we’re ready to defend whatever they’re bringing to us, and make sure we use our weapons and advantages against them.”
>> Video: Ohio State women plan to keep focus on George Washington
Part of that advantage should be the crowd. Although the Buckeyes usually play at Value City Arena, they cannot this weekend because of the state high school girls tournament.
They do usually play a game each season at St. John, this season beating Stanford there in November. Coach Kevin McGuff said he has had an affinity for the arena since winning a state championship as a player there with Hamilton Badin in 1988.
“This is a great venue, I think we’ll have a really good environment, it will be loud and create what I believe will kind of be a home-court advantage, hopefully,” McGuff said. “There’s also a little bit of pressure playing at home. At times people can get caught up in that.
“But I think definitely there’s a lot more advantages than disadvantages.”