Part of what makes Kierstan Bell the most exciting player to watch on the Ohio State women's basketball team is her ability to completely turn around a game with her individual play.
In an 82-74 win over Wisconsin on Sunday in Value City Arena, that talent applied to both ends of the court.
With 3:17 remaining until halftime, Bell stole a pass at the top of the key and ran the floor for an easy layup. On the next Wisconsin possession, she deflected a pass in a similar spot, ran the floor and finished a layup off a pass from Jacy Sheldon to give the Buckeyes a 10-point lead, their largest at the time.
With both teams shooting about 60% in the first half and leading scorer and rebounder Dorka Juhasz out with a right ankle injury, the Buckeyes needed some kind of injection of life on the defensive end to give them the edge going into halftime. The freshman filled that role.
"She had a really great game,” coach Kevin McGuff said. “She really competed, and one of the things with Dorka being out was we had to put her more as a post player, and she really competed against their post players.”
Bell scored 12 of her team-leading 20 points in the second quarter to propel the Buckeyes (14-9, 7-5) to their third straight victory. Aaliyah Patty (16 points), Janai Crooms (14) and Rebeka Mikulasikova (12) also scored in double figures.
To open the fourth quarter, Crooms scored three straight layups . The last one came on an assist from Bell on a one-handed fastball from near midcourt to make it an 18-point game.
"I thought Janai Crooms was outstanding today,” McGuff said. “She got to the rim and finished. She also distributed the ball. I thought we had a great day in transition. A lot of that had to do with Janai.”
But instead of building upon that lead or comfortably closing out the game, the Buckeyes revealed their inconsistent streak by allowing the Badgers (11-13, 3-10) to cut the lead to eight with 2:22 remaining.
“We have to get better down the stretch in these types of games,” Crooms said. “I just feel like we need to have a better ending, and just stay together and lock in on defense.”
Ohio State struggled to defend the rim without Juhasz, who averages 13 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Wisconsin's best player, forward Abby Laszewski, had 26 points on 11-of-14 shooting.
The Buckeyes executed well offensively, but at times didn't bring that same energy to the other end of the floor. To get enough wins in the six remaining regular-season games to make the NCAA Tournament, Ohio State will have to finish out games.
“We've got to continue to get better, especially on defense,” McGuff said. “I think we're evolving offensively, our transition offense is getting better, but we got to get stops and steals in order to get that going."