Eric Beiersdorfer / Lantern photographer
After being ranked as high as No. 6 in the country early in December, the Ohio State women’s basketball team surprisingly now must fight for its right to play in the NCAA Tournament, which takes college basketball’s top 64 teams.
Seven upsets will do that to a top-10 team, with the latest being to Northwestern on Sunday at home. Those defeats came to unranked Syracuse, Duquesne, Michigan twice, Penn State and Northwestern twice.
“We’re not a team that fights through adversity. That’s how you win games. You got to claw it,” OSU coach Jim Foster said Sunday after his team’s 74-68 loss to Northwestern.
Inversely, the Buckeyes (13-9, 4-6 Big Ten) are 3-2 against ranked teams, losing to then-No. 1 Connecticut on Dec. 19 and No. 22 Iowa on Jan. 8.
And the team’s last six games of the season won’t be any easier. OSU plays No. 5 Purdue (16-8, 6-5 Big Ten) on Thursday at Nationwide Arena.
Then, three of its last five games are away: Minnesota (11-12, 3-7 Big Ten) on Sunday, Purdue on Feb. 20 and No. 11 Michigan State (20-3, 8-2) on Feb. 24.
The winner of the Big Ten Tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, but OSU came into Sunday’s in seventh place in the conference.
The pile of losses is even more surprising considering the Buckeyes were ranked in The Associated Press‘ Top 25 for 130 straight weeks — a streak that ended last week. Over the past six seasons, OSU racked up 170 wins, sixth most in the country over that span.
“It was frustrating — very,” senior center Jantel Lavender said after Sunday’s loss.
Missing the tournament would be disappointing for such an established program and for Foster, who has taken the Buckeyes to the NCAA Tournament each of his eight seasons in Columbus. His teams made the Sweet 16 in 2005 and 2009.
But the Buckeyes have played the country’s third-toughest schedule and, according to Realtimerpi.com, rank No. 18 in the nation in RPI.
“It’s not different than anything they’re going to face in life. If you’re going to roll over and quit, you’re not going to have a very good life,” Foster said. “This is one of the easiest things in life to fight, quite frankly.”
The numbers say OSU is better than its record indicates. After Sunday’s loss to Northwestern, the team averages 72.6 points per game, and has posted an 11-2 record when it has scored more than 70 points.
And, only Connecticut has shot at least 50 percent from the field against the Buckeyes. After an injury to starting forward Sarah Schulze, Foster started freshman center Ashley Adams.
The 6-foot-4 center provides another defensive presence down low for OSU. But even that hasn’t been enough.
“I think that we don’t have … a mentality about defense enough,” Lavender said. “Teams come at us, and we’re not responding in the right way.”