The No. 6 Ohio State women’s basketball team (0-1) is set to welcome top-ranked Connecticut to the Schottenstein Center on Monday with the Buckeyes looking to dethrone the Huskies, winners of the last three national championships.
OSU’s battle against the nation’s No. 1 team comes just three days after the Buckeyes lost to No. 2 South Carolina 88-80 despite sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell’s 36-point outburst. The Gamecocks used their myriad of talented post players to get second-chance points and take over the game down the stretch.
“We really got stagnant offensively at the end of the game and didn’t generate enough quality shots,” OSU coach Kevin McGuff said. “Probably more importantly, we didn’t keep them off the glass.”
In order for the Buckeyes to have a chance against Connecticut, McGuff said he understands his team must compete with the defending champions on the boards and neutralize them in the interior.
“Well, Connecticut’s unbelieveable. They’ve got a great team, they’ve got great players, they’re well-coach, they’re No. 1 in the country for a reason,” McGuff said.
The Huskies are led by senior forward Breanna Stewart, a two-time AP player of the year winner and the first three-time Final Four most outstanding performer in NCAA history. Stewart, standing 6-foot-4, averaged 17.6 points to go along with 7.8 rebounds last season.
This year, Stewart looks to win her fourth national championship and, before the season, was joined by her teammate, senior guard and UConn’s offensive facilitator Moriah Jefferson, as a preseason AP All-American.
While OSU’s roster boasts talented players from top to bottom, only Mitchell was honored as a McDonald’s All-American exiting high school. Connecticut boasts six such players receiving the award in high school.
Two seasons ago, in McGuff’s first year as OSU’s head coach, the Buckeyes hosted Connecticut, falling 70-49. However, only two players — Alston and senior guard Cait Craft — remain from that team.
“They’re the same type of team, they push the ball in transition, they have a lot of talent back. And when you think of UConn, all you think of is the huge tradition that they have,” Craft said. “But, we’re a whole different team than we were my sophomore year. The makeup of our team is different, our style of play is different.”
The aura of Geno Auriemma’s Huskies
UConn coach Geno Auriemma’s legend precedes himself.
The 2006 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee has won 10 NCAA championships, two Olympic gold medals, 21 regular-season conference championships and 20 postseason conference championships. The foul-mouthed, Italian-born Auriemma has not coached a team that did not make the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament since 1993.
“If (UConn) could walk in here with different jerseys, maybe it would be a little different,” McGuff said. “But I do think they obviously have an aura about them and they’ve earned that.”
Auriemma’s UConn teams often beat opponents before even stepping on the court. For 40 minutes, the Huskies will push the pace, never taking a second for their opponents to take a breath even when their lead seems insurmountable.
The Huskies played two exhibition games in the preseason, romping Lubbock Christian 95-39 and decimating Vanguard 98-18, holding their opponents to 17.9 and 11.5 percent field-goal rates, respectively.
“They’re a good team, it doesn’t matter that they’re playing away from home. They’re going to go on mini runs throughout the game, but you just can’t fold when you do that,” Craft said.
On top of their ability, McGuff said what makes the Huskies much more difficult to beat is the way they respond to pressure.
“They also have a little bit of a target on their back. Everyone wants to take their best shot against them and that’s the thing I think is most impressive. They handle that so well,” McGuff said.
Monday’s contest against UCOnn will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 5:30 as part of ESPN’s tip-off marathon. This exposure allows McGuff to sell his program to recruits and allow his team a stage on which to compete when the lights are brightest.
“I’m excited. I think Ohio State, our fans and our community have been yearning for something like this, to have great teams play here and for this to be a great environment,” McGuff said. “I’m happy for our players too, that’s why they’ve come to Ohio State.”