McGuff watching for fatigue among young Buckeyes

Ray Stein The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Kevin McGuff talks to his team during a timeout in the fourth quarter of the NCAA women's basketball game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Value City Arena on Jan. 31, 2019. Ohio State won 78-70. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

The calendar has flipped to February, which means the college basketball season has been in session for nearly four months — a consistent cycle of practices, games, travel, rinse and repeat.

At this time of year, coaches look for signs of fatigue, especially in young players or those new to the program.

The Ohio State women’s team is comprised almost entirely from those two groups, with a nine-player rotation that includes three freshmen and four graduate transfers.

Coach Kevin McGuff said Tuesday that he is mindful of the idea of his players hitting a wall but hadn’t seen evidence of it — at least until a 76-59 loss to Northwestern on Sunday.

“We played probably our worst game of the year against Northwestern. Hopefully, that game was more of an anomaly than anything,” McGuff said. “You especially have to watch the freshmen. This is a long season for them, and we play all of them.”

The Buckeyes (9-11, 5-6) host Penn State (10-11, 3-7) at Value City Arena on Wednesday having played every third or fourth day since Jan. 14.

“Everyone was more tired in that game,” guard Carmen Grande said of the loss to the Wildcats, who led by 30 points in the fourth quarter. “Our mindset was not the right one. They really out-toughed us in all aspects. Every (other) game we’ve been right there, even if we lost.”

McGuff said he and his staff have worked to manage his players’ minutes in practices but acknowledged that some responsibility for being fresh falls to his players.

“Part of it is, they’ve got to make sure they show up ready,” McGuff said. “Every night you’ve got to be locked in and focused for 40 minutes for us to have a chance to be successful. We need to get back to doing the things we had been doing.”

OSU’s game against Penn State on Jan. 17 was one of the highlights of an inconsistent season. The Buckeyes overcame an 18-point deficit in the final 6½ minutes to win 76-71 in overtime.

McGuff said he does not expect his team to carry over any negative residue from a blowout loss.

“I think they forget pretty quickly — maybe faster than you like,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a fine line. You want to learn from it but not dwell on it and allow it to be an anchor.”