Kelsey Mitchell, the most prolific scorer in Big Ten women’s basketball history and knocking on second place nationally, had just 11 points, tying her season low, in Ohio State’s 87-45 win over George Washington on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
But anyone paying attention at St. John Arena — count among them GW coach Jennifer Rizzotti, one of the all-time great playmaking guards in her years at Connecticut in the 1990s — could see Mitchell was deferring more than asserting.
Her hard-thump dribbles served more as the drumbeat for the Ohio State offense, as she helped Stephanie Mavunga (22 points, 13 rebounds), Alexa Hart (12 points) and Linnae Harper (10) shred the Colonials defense. It’s the role that Rizzotti expects to see Mitchell play more when she moves on to the WNBA next season.
“Hopefully we gave everybody a nice preview of what’s to come,” Rizzotti said.
Mitchell, who had seven assists, took that as the compliment it was meant to be.
“It actually feels good to hear somebody say something like that,” Mitchell said. “I don’t want it to be just so much about points for me. If I can make the game different in so many ways, just be as diverse as possible, that’s the feeling that I like. That’s how I want to be on the court.”
More than anything, she wants Ohio State, No. 3 seed in the Spokane regional, to maintain the intensity it had Saturday as it heads toward a second-round game Monday against No. 11 Central Michigan, which upset No. 6 LSU earlier.
The Buckeyes had vowed headed into the tournament to be on point each game without looking ahead, even if the ultimate goal is to be in the Final Four at Nationwide Arena in two weeks.
“It’s not so much about individual performances, per se, it’s about group effort,” Mitchell said. “And when you’re playing in the NCAA, you’re surviving, that’s just what it is.
“When you approach the game with so much focus and preparation, it takes care of a lot of things, a lot of the small things that people may not see on the outside. But our focus and preparation was there, and that’s what’s important.”
As happy as he was with the outcome, a 42-point win, Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff also stayed real with his assessment. There were some ragged moments — especially on offense where OSU had 14 turnovers, compared with the Colonials’ 11 — but the pressure on defense was consistent. George Washington was 18 of 66 from the field compared with 33 of 59 for Ohio State.
Overall, “it was a really good performance from us after not playing for two weeks,” McGuff said.
There was the slow start in the first quarter, but it was one of Mitchell’s four field goals, a three-pointer, with three seconds left that lifted the Buckeyes to a 17-12 lead and started the steamroller.
“I think it was a game-changer from the standpoint of our momentum definitely shifted to a positive,” Mitchell said. “It was good to see that, because George Washington was a good team, and they were looking to exploit us in so many ways. So to end the first quarter with kind of like a dagger definitely helped.”