Since a three-game losing streak in January, there has been an obvious change in the way the veteran-laden Ohio State women’s basketball team goes about its business.
“What we’ve tried to emphasize is just more balance in what we do,” coach Kevin McGuff said Sunday. “I think in the beginning of the year, we got a little shot-happy from the three, and didn’t do as good a job, because I think when we’re really at our best is when we’re driving the ball, we’re throwing the ball inside, and we’re taking open threes.
“That’s kind of the sweet spot for us in terms in how we want the offense to flow.”
So for fans of more post-friendly basketball, buckle up. The NCAA Tournament's second-round battle between No. 3 seed Ohio State and No. 11 Central Michigan at 6:30 p.m. Monday in St. John Arena has the makings of such a collision.
On Saturday in the teams' first-round wins, Stephanie Mavunga of Ohio State and CMU’s Tinara Moore — player of the year in the Mid-American Conference — held sway on both ends of the floor. Each is 6 feet 3 and able to roam from the top to the bottom of the lane, and each should be central to her team’s plans Monday.
“That’s a really big matchup,” McGuff said. Moore “is a big part of what they do; obviously Steph’s a big part of what we do. It’s always (depended on) how those things work within the framework of the team, but you can certainly point toward that matchup as being a big one.”
Mavunga and Moore also see it more as a collision of teams, not individuals. Moore put it best: “We’re just here to play basketball.”
Which goes back to the difference between Ohio State now and two months ago. The intent to get after it as a team has permeated the locker room, Makayla Waterman said.
“We all bought in,” Waterman said. “Before, we’ve been talking about it in our meetings these past couple of months, talking about what we need to do … and none of us were actually doing it.
“I think we’ve finally kind of started to realize, ‘OK, we’ve got to start talking the talk, we’ve got to start walking the walk.’ And when we were doing that, we started to win games, and everybody likes winning. So everything kind of clicked then — ‘Oh, this is actually working.’"
Ohio State’s All-America guard, Kelsey Mitchell, is just 19 points shy of tying former Missouri State player Jackie Stiles for second place on the all-time women’s scoring list at 3,393, but she stepped back and scored a mere 11 while dishing out seven assists Saturday in an 87-45 romp over George Washington while Mavunga (22) and others stacked up the points. Careful preparation and then carrying it through to the game was the difference, Mitchell said.
“If we can just contain that, and I think we will, I think we can go a long way,” Mitchell said.
Central Michigan coach Sue Guevara — who was a graduate assistant at Ohio State during the mid-1980s, and a former coach at Michigan — said her team also is riding the wave of getting it done as a group, with Moore at the center of it all. The Chippewas beat LSU 78-69 on Saturday, the program's first NCAA Tournament win, and the team's focus was noticeable, she said, as her players turned the page quickly to OSU.
“We didn’t want to two-step: one step in, one step out,” Guevara said of the NCAA appearance. “We wanted to dance a little bit more, and that’s what we’ve done. What I like about this team … is it’s just back to business. It’s back to, ‘Here we go.’"
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