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Women’s basketball: How Ohio State is replacing the injured Stephanie Mavunga’s contributions

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OSU then-junior forward Shayla Cooper (32) during a game against Nebraska on Feb. 18 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Lantern File Photo

Redshirt junior forward Stephanie Mavunga has been an integral part of the Ohio State women’s basketball team’s success. However, with the Buckeyes’ second-leading scorer and leading rebounder sidelined with a foot injury, OSU is using many different players, both in the starting lineup and on the bench, to make up for the production lost for the foreseeable future.

In her first season playing for OSU after transferring from North Carolina after her sophomore season, Mavunga is second on the team, averaging 11.8 points per game while leading the team, and ranked sixth nationally, with 11.3 rebounds per game.

According to McGuff, the season that Mavunga is having with OSU does not come very often.

“It’s not easy to average a double-double,” McGuff said. “It takes a lot of work and effort. Another thing that she does is run the floor. She puts a lot of pressure on other teams’ post players to get back and I think that really wears on the other team as the game goes on. She’s doing a great job.”

Mavunga stressed the importance of having a “big” as the anchor of the defensive front.

“I think size is key,” she said. “That is something that lacked last year and the previous years before that. I think that size is key both defensively and offensively. Defensively especially, because there’s other really big girls in the NCAA Tournament and in the Big Ten itself, so I think that that’s key in terms of defending other teams’ post players. Also, on the offensive end, it helps in rebounding and shot attempts as well, so you can have a shot over other people maybe that are smaller than you or at least easier to do that.”

With Mavunga out of the starting lineup and her game being very important to the team’s overall game plan, OSU had to find players to replace her production in the paint. After being outrebounded by Iowa by three on Feb. 12, the Buckeyes were back to dominating the paint, out-rebounding Nebraska by 11 with the forwards — freshman Tori McCoy, redshirt sophomore Makayla Waterman, junior Alexa Hart and senior Shayla Cooper — combining for 25 of the 45 team rebounds.

With the loss of Mavunga, junior guard Kelsey Mitchell said that she and her teammates are going to have to continue to step up in the paint to get those rebounds.

“Being able to kind of get that back and knowing that, with her absence, it’s going to be a little bit more difficult, we just have to take the people we do have and tell them to buy in to it,” she said. “There were a couple of changes that needed to be made in how important it was that (Mavunga) was getting rebounds and now it’s a lot more important that we kind of bounce back and get that same kind of vibe that we did have.”

Even though she cannot play, Mavunga is making an impact, giving players, like McCoy, different tips on how to defend her position during the game.

“Basically, she is just telling me to keep running the floor and post up hard and every time I have the chance,” McCoy said. “She is always telling me to do that and it’s actually helping. I listened to her in the last game we just played.”

Even when Mavunga was on the court, she gave her teammates an example on how to play the game.

“(McCoy’s) energy and her intensity really is contagious to our team and how hard she goes in the paint really effects how hard we play,” redshirt junior guard Linnae Harper said. “She’s a great asset to the team and that’s one reason why our team is getting better because it’s somebody on our team that can make other people better.”

However, until Mavunga is ready to get back onto the court, the rebounding game will have to be a team effort.

“It’s important that we have all three of (the forwards) in the paint and the rest of the guards, too. All of us,” Mitchell said.

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