No. 25 Ohio State women’s basketball won’t be at full strength for huge game at No. 9 Michigan

Jacob Myers
The Columbus Dispatch
Last year against Ohio State, Michigan forward Naz Hillmon (00) scored 50 points in a loss against the Buckeyes.

The Ohio State women’s basketball team has been affected by the latest surge of COVID-19 cases that has greatly impacted sports through postponements and cancelations at the professional and collegiate level. 

Two games have been changed — a game at UCLA on Dec. 19 was canceled, and Monday’s home game against Penn State was postponed — because of a number of positive tests within the other programs. 

Now for Friday’s New Year’s Eve game at rival Michigan, the Buckeyes won’t have a complete roster due to an unknown number of positive COVID-19 tests. 

"We won't be at full strength tomorrow, but (there) will be enough to play,” coach Kevin McGuff said. 

As policy, Ohio State athletics has not disclosed the number of positive tests among teams since the start of the pandemic. McGuff said 100% of the team has been fully vaccinated and the staff is in the process of talking about players getting booster shots. Ohio State is testing vaccinated players only when they show symptoms or are close contacts. 

How much of the Buckeyes’ schedule is ultimately disrupted is up for speculation, but the constant worry of whether they will play or not can be distracting. 

“Our kids are doing a great job showing up every day and doing what they can do and all that,” McGuff said. “But it's really, really tough because the uncertainty really weighs on our kids.” 

Having played just two games against Alabama State and San Diego State since a 20-point home loss on Dec. 12 to No. 8 Indiana, the Buckeyes have had ample time to work on their defense and rebounding while scheming a way to slow down the Wolverines at noon in the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor. 

It’s unknown who will be unavailable for Ohio State, though leading scorer Jacy Sheldon and the team’s best defender Rikki Harris spoke to media, meaning they were not in COVID-19 protocol as of Thursday afternoon. 

Like Indiana, Michigan looks like a final four contender, led by forward Naz Hillmon who scored 50 points against the Buckeyes at Value City Arena last season. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year and national player of the year candidate averages 23.9 points and 11.4 rebounds, followed by Leigha Brown at 18.2 points per game. 

Harris said to take down a team like Michigan, Ohio State will need to be more consistent and play harder defensively than it did against Indiana. 

"Biggest challenge is just making sure we're all on the same page,” Harris said. “We have to rotate and help the helper. Offense will come. We have great scorers and move the ball well, but being able to help each other out on defense with the talent Michigan has.” 

The Buckeyes don’t believe they’re 20 points worse than the top teams in the conference. Regardless of who’s available, Ohio State wants to play at a level that shows it can compete with the top teams in the Big Ten. 

"The past three or four days we've had really good practices so we're feeling pretty good about it,” Sheldon said. “But Michigan is a great offensive and defensive team, so we're going to have to be locked in on both sides of the floor.”