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Alston, Mitchell fueling Ohio State women’s basketball in NCAA Tournament

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OSU junior guard Ameryst Alston (14) dribbles the ball up the floor during a NCAA Tournament first-round game against James Madison on March 21 in Chapel Hill, N.C.. OSU won, 90-80, behind Alston's 28 points. Credit: Courtesy of OSU athletics

OSU junior guard Ameryst Alston (14) dribbles the ball up the floor during a NCAA Tournament first-round game against James Madison on March 21 in Chapel Hill, N.C.. OSU won, 90-80, behind Alston’s 28 points.
Credit: Courtesy of OSU Athletics

The Ohio State women’s basketball team has an NCAA Tournament win under its belt, and perhaps the two best guards in the nation.

At least that’s what junior Ameryst Alston and freshman Kelsey Mitchell are in the eyes of coach Kevin McGuff.

“With (Kelsey) and Am at the one and two, in my opinion, we have the best backcourt in the country,” McGuff said before the Buckeyes played James Madison on Saturday.

The duo, who combined for 51 points in OSU’s 90-80 take down of the Dukes in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Chapel Hill, N.C., were both still in high school the last time OSU played on this stage in 2012.

Alston and Mitchell led a Buckeye team of just eight active roster members, none of whom had played on the biggest stage of college basketball before. But that all changed when the Buckeyes picked up their first tournament win since 2011.

At the start of the season, an NCAA Tournament appearance was not necessarily the first thing on the Buckeyes’ mind. Rather, it was to work as hard as they could and to see where it would lead them, Mitchell said.

“Coming into the season, it was never a thought that I had,” Mitchell said. “But I knew our team would work as hard as they could and anything would be possible.”

OSU enters the tournament’s second round having won 13 of its last 16 games after starting the season 11-7.

“We have come so far,” junior guard Cait Craft said. “Looking back at how we played then compared to how we play now makes it so exciting and very encouraging.”

Like Craft, Alston said she agrees that this team continues to improve and has potential for a bright future ahead.

“I always thought we had a great chance at it,” Alston said. “Like (Cait) said, we spent a while trying to find ourselves. Even at this point, I still think we’re getting better and better. When everybody is playing together, it makes it a lot more fun and exciting.”

OSU freshman guard Kelsey Mitchell (3) dribbles past James Madison junior guard Angela Mickens (32) during a NCAA Tournament first-round game on March 21 in Chapel Hill, N.C.. OSU won, 90-80. Credit: Courtesy of OSU athletics

OSU freshman guard Kelsey Mitchell (3) dribbles past James Madison junior guard Angela Mickens (32) during a NCAA Tournament first-round game on March 21 in Chapel Hill, N.C.. OSU won, 90-80.
Credit: Courtesy of OSU Athletics

Now with one win in the books, the Buckeyes are set to take on North Carolina on the Tar Heels’ home court on Monday.

“It is tough to have to be the opposing team and have to play somebody on their home court,” McGuff said. “It is hard, but it may help to be the underdog.”

Despite playing in Chapel Hill, N.C., once again, the Buckeyes are not worried about the team they face but rather focusing on what they can control, Mitchell said.

“It doesn’t matter who you play,” she said. “We have to play everybody so it is what it is. We know that every team is a great team, so we need to take it one step at a time.”

No matter the team or the circumstance, McGuff said he believes his team will be ready to play at the highest level possible.

“I feel good about how we are playing,” McGuff said. “The biggest thing is how you are playing this time of year. I have a lot of confidence in our players and how we are playing.”

OSU is set to take the floor against the Tar Heels at 6:30 p.m.

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