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Ohio State feeding off lack of attention entering NCAA Tournament

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Is it possible that both the Ohio State and University of Central Florida women’s basketball teams could feel underrated as they make final preparations for Saturday’s first-round NCAA Tournament game?

Could be.

OSU (22-9) is the No. 4 seed in the Dayton Region, and will play No. 13 seed UCF (22-10) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at St. John Arena.

After posting a 4-6 record in their first 10 conference games during the regular season, the Buckeyes appeared to be fading out of the postseason picture. OSU came on strong in the last month, however, winning nine consecutive games and claiming its third straight Big Ten Tournament title on March 6.

Friday’s press conference featured questions that stood in stark contrast to the Buckeyes’ recent success and could serve as motivation.

Buckeye guards Samantha Prahalis and Brittany Johnson found themselves responding to queries regarding regular-season rough patches and prior NCAA Tournament disappointments.

Both Prahalis and Johnson reflected on the Buckeyes’ early-season struggles.

“It was a long time ago,” Johnson said. “We’ve moved on and we’re focused now. We keep that negative stuff behind us.”

Prahalis agreed.

“We use it as motivation,” she said. “It was just something we had to overcome as a team.”

Coach Joi Williams’ Knights (22-10) are riding a hot streak into Saturday’s contest as well.

UCF claimed a conference tournament championship and an automatic NCAA Tournament berth by defeating Tulane, 85-73, in the Conference USA title game. UCF also brings an 11-game winning streak to St. John Arena.

The Knights also were busy fending off media scrutiny on Friday. Williams said she is aware that few people have picked her team to upset OSU.

“We have absolutely nothing to lose,” Williams said. “There’s not one of you guys in here that thinks UCF can win this game. We realize that.”

One fair criticism of Williams’ UCF squad is its lack of size — none of the probable Knight starters slated to defend the towering OSU tandem of 6-foot-4 senior center Jantel Lavender and 6-5 freshman center Ashley Adams is taller than 5-10.

“Certainly players like Jantel Lavender … they’re tough to stop,” Williams said. ” When you get to this time of year, I’m sure coach Foster’s not changing much. We’re not changing much (defensively).”

Regardless of what questions are asked in interviews and whether either team makes changes ahead of Saturday’s game, Prahalis said OSU’s only focus is to beat UCF.

“The only assurance is winning,” she said. “We have to win. Is it a little bit of pressure? Of course. We’ve just go to, you know, win.”

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