Ohio State's Jacy Sheldon, Taylor Mikesell face tough Missouri State defense in NCAA Tournament
For the Ohio State women’s basketball team to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, leading scorers Jacy Sheldon and Taylor Mikesell have to be at their best. And both will be tested in the first round against one of the best scoring defenses in the country.
The No. 6 seed Buckeyes (23-6) have one of the fastest offenses in the country, ranked sixth with 79.2 points per game. Their opponent, the No. 11 seed Missouri State Lady Bears (25-7), allow just 53.6 points per game, ranked 10th-best nationally.
Coupled with a rebounding margin that's 8.5 rebounds a game better than Ohio State’s, the Buckeyes know better than to overlook an experienced team that made it to the Sweet 16 last season.
“You can tell they have a great commitment to (defense), and that's a big part of their identity as a program,” OSU coach Kevin McGuff said. “They coach it very well. You can tell they put a lot of time in the preparation."
Missouri State has played five teams ranked in the top 31 nationally in points per game. In all of those games, the Bears held their opponent to under their season average. The 25th-best scoring offense, South Dakota State, scored 52 points compared to their 74.1 season average. In three games against Drake, which averaged 73.7 points a game this year, the Bears allowed 53, 59 and 49 points.
LSU, which will likely face the winner of Saturday’s game between Ohio State and Missouri State, also averages 73.7 points per game and scored 66 against the Bears in late November.
“They definitely deserve to be here,” said Mikesell, who averages 18.8 points per game and is shooting 46.7% from beyond the arc. “They run really fast in transition, they rebound the ball well, and they just play hard together.”
Mikesell’s 105 3-point baskets represent the third-highest total in the nation. She has shown up in big games scoring 33, 29 and 24 points in two games against Maryland and at Iowa.
In their two matchups against prolific 3-point shooters, Missouri State fared well. The Bears held Virginia Tech’s Aisha Sheppard — who has the seventh-most made 3s this season — to just nine points on 3-of-10 shooting, and Missouri’s Haley Frank — with the 20th-most 3-pointers — to 12 points and just one triple.
“Those two kids are phenomenal,” Missouri State coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton said. “(Mikesell) can really, really shoot it ... Jacy is an all-around player. She really makes them go. ... That's obviously a big test, but we've played against high-level players in our conference and our non-conference too.”
Averaging 19.5 points, Ohio State’s other first-team All-Big Ten player can fill it up, even against good defenses, such as when she scored 22 points in the Big Ten tournament semifinal against Indiana. But Sheldon hasn’t hit a 3-pointer since Feb. 17 against Maryland, going 0 for 11 in her last five games.
“Being a shooter, you're going to have nights where it goes in and nights where (they) don't,” Sheldon said. “I don't really let that bother my mentality at all. So just keep shooting, and eventually, it's going to go in.”
While Sheldon and Mikesell have had shown up the most on scoresheets this season, it will take all the Buckeyes playing together to win against the Bears.
“I think we're not going to necessarily just beat them early in the shot clock or in transition. I think they're too good defensively for that,” McGuff said. “Collectively our execution is going to have to be really good to generate quality shots, not only for Jacy and Taylor, but for the entire team.”