Inconsistency has been an all-too-familiar buzzword lingering around the youthful Ohio State women’s basketball team.
With a six-game winning streak to open February, the Buckeyes seemed to have bucked that up-and-down trend.
But then came a two-point loss to Rutgers last Saturday and a Jekyll-and-Hyde, 69-55 defeat to Big Ten co-leader Northwestern on Tuesday in Value City Arena that exposed Ohio State’s inexperience and wildly erratic tendencies on offense.
"Personally, I think we just weren’t focused for 40 minutes," sophomore forward Dorka Juhasz said. "In the second half, they got easy baskets and we couldn’t score against their zone. We also kind of struggled to stop (Abi) Schied from shooting three-pointers."
Riding a seven-game win streak, 14th-ranked Northwestern (25-3, 15-2) was allowing just 56.7 points per game, second best in the Big Ten. As the game wore on, Ohio State had difficulty dealing with the Wildcats’ variety of zones.
"I thought we got some decent shots," OSU coach Kevin McGuff said, "but we just weren’t able to take advantage of our opportunities. Make no mistake, they’re very good defensively. Give them credit.
"But the first things I look for are, ‘Was the effort there?’ and ‘Did we get good enough shots?’ and I thought we did both of those things. I will say we looked a little tired in the end."
For a large chunk of the game, Ohio State (17-11, 10-7) fought toe-to-toe with a Northwestern team shooting for its first Big Ten title since 1990 (the Wildcats are tied with Maryland with one game remaining). The Buckeyes trailed only 47-45 late in the third quarter.
But the Wildcats closed the quarter with a 9-0 run, highlighted by 35-foot, three-point bank shot by Lindsey Pulliam just before the horn, and kept the pedal to the metal in the final period.
Ohio State endured two ugly stretches in the game, the first spanning 7:39 and the second 7:45, without making a basket. The second proved decisive. The Buckeyes’ shooting plummeted significantly each quarter, closing out at 38.5% (19 of 55).
In turn, Northwestern shot 56.3% (27 of 48), with 6-foot-2 Schied hitting 5 of 7 three-pointers and finishing with 19 points. Pulliam added 16 points. The Wildcats were extremely efficient in the half-court, often breaking down the Buckeyes with their high-low game featuring Schied and 6-4 Abi Wolf.
"We had some breakdowns defensively," McGuff said.
Juhasz recorded her third consecutive triple-double (15 points, 12 rebounds) while Jacy Sheldon and Rebeka Mikulasikova added 12 points apiece.
Ohio State closes at Purdue (17-12, 8-9) on Saturday, hoping to gain a favorable seed in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments and, more important, regain the momentum it once had.
"That’s a hard place to play and they beat us the first time (66-50), so we have to regain our focus," Juhasz said.