Like many of us in the Midwest, Kevin McGuff awoke to a freezer blast of a Wednesday morning and one nagging regret.

“Today was the day I said, ‘Why didn’t I get a remote starter so I could warm up my car without having to go outside?’ ” the Ohio State women’s basketball coach said.

Truth be told, McGuff isn’t complaining much these days, not the way his Buckeyes have turned around their season.

Ohio State (8-10, 4-5) enters a home game against Illinois (9-11, 1-8) on Thursday having won four of its past six games after a 4-8 start that included a five-game losing streak.

 

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Such a cold start was anticipated, though hardly welcomed, considering the Buckeyes had to replace their top six scorers from last season, including All-America guard Kelsey Mitchell. Ohio State’s roster includes four graduate-transfer seniors and three true freshmen.

Having lost 93.5 percent of the scoring from the 2017-18 team that won 28 games, McGuff knew that besides mostly new players his team would have to operate under a new philosophy.

“We definitely had to wrap our minds around playing defense. It’s different without the natural scoring we’ve been used to,” McGuff said. “We have to defend and rebound every night.”

The Buckeyes have done just that throughout January, which started with a narrow loss at No. 4 Maryland, a result that provided tangible evidence the new style could work. In OSU’s four wins this month, opponents are averaging only 57.8 points per game.

“I knew this season would be about making improvements throughout the year,” McGuff said. “It’s been hard at times but it’s also been a great experience. It’s forced me to do a lot of things differently. I’ve grown as a coach this year.”

His players have grown along with him. The Buckeyes still don’t have the offensive firepower of recent years — their season-high point total is 76, nine fewer than their average last season — but they have had different players stand tall at times to help make OSU competitive.

Freshman forward Dorka Juhasz has been the most consistent player with six double-doubles, but she has missed Ohio State’s past two games with an ankle injury.

But freshman Aaliyah Patty stepped in for Juhasz and scored a career-high 20 points in a win at Minnesota on Monday, and senior guard Carly Santoro has averaged 17.0 points in her past five games.

“I’m happy that these players have committed to getting better and improving,” McGuff said. “As long as we keep doing that, we’ll be fine.”

rstein@dispatch.com