The past two seasons have given Ohio State women’s basketball coach Kevin McGuff a chance to work with very different rosters.
The 2018-19 squad relied on a mix of four seniors, including three graduate transfers, and three freshmen to navigate the way through a 14-15 record that ended with a loss to Morehead State in the first round of the women’s NIT.
This season, McGuff has relied on a star-studded freshman class and a junior who transferred from one OSU (Oklahoma State) to one in her home state (Ohio State).
Despite a few hiccups, McGuff has guided the Buckeyes to an 18-11 overall record, 11-7 in the Big Ten, and heads into the conference tournament as the sixth seed.
On Thursday night, Ohio State plays the winner of Wednesday’s first-round game between No. 11 seed Minnesota (15-14, 5-13) and No. 14 Penn State (7-22, 1-17).
The freshman standouts include Kierstan Bell, a three-time Ms. Basketball in Ohio from Canton McKinley who is second on the Buckeyes with an average of 11.1 points. This week, she was named a member of the Big Ten’s all-freshman team.
OSU also has received contributions from freshmen Jacy Sheldon of Dublin Coffman (9.2 points), Slovakian forward Rebeka Mikulasikova (7.7) and Pickerington Central’s Madison Greene (7.3).
In hindsight, McGuff perhaps regrets exposing his young team to such a daunting nonconference schedule, which included losses to Connecticut and Stanford, which were ranked in the top five. Then again, those games and a home win over then-No. 2 Louisville in December helped the younger players grow up quickly.
“I don’t look at our freshmen as freshmen anymore because we played some really tough nonconference games, we’ve had a very difficult Big Ten schedule and they’ve played so many meaningful minutes,” McGuff said. “They’re playing a little bit more like sophomores now.”
With all of the youngsters, the Buckeyes have found consistency from two important sources.
The first is sophomore forward Dorka Juhasz, the team’s leading scorer (13.3 points per game) and rebounder (9.1). She was named a first-team all-Big Ten selection.
“Dorka’s a special player, and the thing that makes her so unique is her versatility,” McGuff said. “She’s extremely effective around the basket with her size (6 feet 4), and she can also score from the perimeter and put the ball on the floor.”
The other is junior guard Braxtin Miller from Dayton, who began her career at Oklahoma State and was two-time honorable mention all-Big 12 with the Cowboys.
Miller’s scoring (7.8 points) is down from her average of 13.1 points at Oklahoma State, but her averages of rebounds (3.3) and assists (3.3) are on par. Her value is measured in other ways.
“She knows the grind of the season, and her steady play and consistency in recent weeks — her verbal communication and leadership — have been critical for us,” McGuff said. “We really needed her this year.”