After taking down Michigan State 76-62 Monday night, junior guard Ameryst Alston walked into practice with her torso concealed in ice and wrapped in athletic gauze.
But the first team All-Big Ten selection from last season was still smiling.
Alston is just one of four current roster members who played in last year’s 77-73 loss to Iowa in the Big Ten Championship semifinal game that ended Ohio State’s season. In getting ready to face Iowa for the first time since, when the Hawkeyes and the Buckeyes are set to play Thursday in Iowa City, Alston said she hasn’t has not forgotten the defeat last March.
“The Big Ten Tournament definitely comes to mind,” Alston said. “I really wanted to win that game and get to the championship. There is some bitterness.”
Since that tournament game almost a year ago, the make up of OSU’s roster looks different after coach Kevin McGuff brought in five freshmen for this season.
“We are going to be a very different team on Thursday night,” McGuff said.
Headlines surrounding the Buckeyes this season have been dominated by McGuff’s top recruit, freshman guard Kelsey Mitchell, who leads the nation in scoring at 26.0 points per game. And while Mitchell has carried the load offensively, some of her teammates are starting to add to the scoring column.
“We are at our best when we have balance in how we play,” McGuff said.
The supporting cast for the Buckeyes has proven to be able to put up points of their own in the past couple of games which have led to road wins against Purdue and Wisconsin. Three players were in double digits at Purdue, while four players were at Wisconsin.
While contributions have been made from everyone, the key to OSU’s success in the past couple games was acknowledged, by both Alston and McGuff, to be the play of junior guard Cait Craft.
“Cait does a lot of our hard work,” Alston said. “She’s a 5-foot guard that will play the four position and bang down low with the posts, and she has worked incredibly hard.”
Craft, who last week said she’s been struggling with her shot this season, has since worked out the kinks and helped OSU to a four-game win streak with both her shooting and defense, McGuff said.
“Cait has been really consistent for us,” McGuff said. “As we play more man-to-man, she is a really good defender.”
OSU is reaching the home stretch of the Big Ten season and are in the middle of a stretch of three games in a week.
“Playing this many games can be tough, but we aren’t worried about it,” Alston said. “We still go hard in practice every day.”
The Hawkeyes will pose a challenge for the Buckeyes as they have many scoring weapons, have not lost at home all year and are ranked No. 16 as well as sitting second in the Big Ten.
“They are good,” McGuff said. “One of the best offensive teams in the country because they can really put up points in a hurry.”
With the number of offensive options on the opposing bench, McGuff said his team will have to be on top of its defensive game plan in order to get the win on the road.
“It is a really, really tough defensive assignment for our team,” McGuff said.
However tough Iowa might be, Alston’s advice to her younger team on how to play tough Big Ten games will not change due to their age.
“I tell them don’t be afraid to make a play,” Alston said. “We don’t really look at our team as freshmen or seniors anymore.”
Tip-off in Iowa City is scheduled for Thursday at 8 p.m.