Rugged schedule tests Ohio State women’s basketball team

Henry Palattella The Columbus Dispatch

In three years, Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff might look back on this stretch of women’s basketball games fondly.

With seven freshmen, no one would have batted an eyelash if McGuff elected to open the season against lesser opponents and ease his players into the college game. Instead, he scheduled three nonconference opponents ranked in the preseason top 10 (No. 3 Stanford, No. 5 Connecticut and No. 9 Louisville) to go along with two that received top 25 votes (Ohio and South Dakota).

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So, while there’s no doubting this season is about winning, it’s equally about laying a foundation for the Buckeyes’ seven freshmen.

“(Having a tough schedule) always seems like a great idea, but then once you’re in it, you wonder how stupid you were to do it,” McGuff said with a laugh. “We’re going to learn a lot about ourselves and really expose ourselves about where we need to get better.”

His team got its first taste Sunday in a 73-62 loss to UConn. The Buckeyes led by as many as five in the third quarter, but a couple of late runs by the Huskies proved to be insurmountable.

“I thought we played hard and competed, but down the stretch they made more plays than us, and that was ultimately the difference in the game,” McGuff said.

After shooting well early, the Buckeyes never really found their rhythm on offense in the second half. With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Ohio State shot 5 of 18 from the field and UConn 7 of 10.

“I think we were really hungry, and our effort was really on point,” said Dorka Juhasz, who had 11 rebounds. “Unfortunately, we missed some shots and made some mistakes. We can learn from it, but I think there’s some extra motivation as well. If we keep playing like this, we’re going to be hard to beat.”

After not participating in an in-season tournament last year, the Buckeyes are spending Thanksgiving weekend in Las Vegas as part of the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout, where they will face South Dakota and Northern Iowa teams that are a combined 10-1.

Although the Buckeyes will go there looking for a sweep, the trip will be another layer to that winning foundation.

“It’s big,” McGuff said. “You play two games and it’s a quick turnaround. Just the idea of moving on from the first game and scouting without a lot of practice is something different for these guys. They’ll have to make sure they’re really on point mentally.”