Ohio State women's basketball team confident in chance to rebound after difficult season

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch
Madison Greene's absence at the end of last season proved too much for the Ohio State women's basketball team to overcome, but the point guard is healthy heading into 2021-22.

INDIANAPOLIS – In the end, it wasn’t a postseason ban, the lingering repercussions from the firing of an assistant coach or the ever-present threat of COVID-19 that proved the biggest hurdle for last year’s Ohio State women’s basketball team.

Undoubtedly, those were all tough pills to swallow. But the loss of starting point guard Madison Greene for the final five games of the season ultimately proved too much for the Buckeyes, who in a shortened season with no hope of playing in the NCAA Tournament closed with four straight losses to finish at 13-7 overall after opening 10-1.

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Now entering her third year, Greene is back, and Ohio State is looking forward to what it hopes will be a more enjoyable season.

“Last year was obviously a challenge on so many fronts,” coach Kevin McGuff said at Big Ten media day. “COVID, we had the postseason ban, so we had a lot of obstacles. In general, really proud of the team and how we competed and the competitive character that they showed throughout to have a successful season. Then at the end, especially when Madison went out, we struggled a little bit so certainly learned the importance of her.”

Despite missing one-fourth of Ohio State’s games, Greene still was named honorable mention All-Big Ten. She was one of two Buckeyes to start the first 15 games of the season alongside Jacy Sheldon, who ultimately led the team in scoring at 16.7 points per game and was named second-team all-league.

While trying to hold things together, Sheldon admitted the Buckeyes started to lose focus down the stretch.

“I think we learned from that,” she said. “(Madison) does a lot of things for us. That definitely hurt at the end of the season without her.”

During the 2020-21 preseason, McGuff had to make deliberate decisions about which players to bring in for summer workouts and which others would be best served by staying in place during the pandemic. Once the team was fully assembled during the preseason, they had little choice but to spend time together in a quasi bubble to minimize the chances of contracting COVID-19.

Despite those efforts, the team had to temporarily shut down due to the virus, but the precautions McGuff took created a bond that Braxtin Miller said remains.

That love for her teammates was enough to convince Miller to return to the Buckeyes, taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted to all players due to the pandemic. 

“I wouldn’t have come back if I didn’t like them,” she said. “I felt so confident with how we stuck together last year. I wanted to come back for them and just for another year to try and see what we can do with a postseason was crucial.”

This will be Miller's third campaign with Ohio State after spending her first two seasons at Oklahoma State. Miller was the team’s leader in minutes played last season at 34.4 per game, while she averaged 11.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists.

Her veteran presence is part of the reason the Buckeyes believe they can make at least a return to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2016-17.

McGuff also spoke glowingly of his team’s backcourt, led by Greene and Sheldon, as well as the impact newly hired assistant coaches Wesley Brooks and Jalen Powell have already made. Maryland and Oregon transfer Taylor Mikesell is still awaiting an eligibility ruling from the NCAA, but Ohio State’s depth and bonds forged in a frustrating season are expected to fuel them in 2021-22.

Plus, there’s the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2018-19 season.

“We were super upset last year not being able to play,” Miller said. “We had a really talented team. I thought we were really confident in ourselves and each other and were happy with what we had. To not be able to play and take that further into a postseason was definitely difficult.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy