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Women’s basketball: Ohio State, Notre Dame battle for berth in Elite Eight

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Ohio State junior guard Kelsey Mitchell drives to the basket and atttempts a layup against Purdue in the Big Ten tournament semifinal in Indianapolis on March 4. Credit: Ashley Nelson | Sports Director

The No. 5 seed Ohio State women’s basketball team heads back to Lexington, Kentucky, for its second consecutive Sweet 16 appearance, after ending the seasons of No. 12 seed Western Kentucky and No. 4 seed Kentucky in the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament.

The Buckeyes lost last season in the round of 16 to No. 6 Tennessee. This year, OSU squares off against No. 1 seed Notre Dame, which is dealing with the recent season-ending ACL injury of its leading scorer and rebounder, Brianna Turner.

OSU freshman forward Tori McCoy was due to match up with Turner, and said she will make the best of the situation.

“She’s a great post player, but if she’s not playing, I’m going to use that to my advantage,” McCoy said.

This news comes at a time when the Buckeyes’ post players are hitting their stride. Senior forward Shayla Cooper has averaged 14 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game in the eight games since redshirt junior forward Stephanie Mavunga left the lineup with a right foot injury.

McCoy has also found her groove recently. She is 11 of 12 from the field and averaging 13 points, 7.5 rebounds and four blocks in the past two tournament games.

“I had to come alive,” McCoy said. “It was kind of weird a little bit, being able to take that role and being able to score like that. I know that it was meant for me to come out and try to do something and contribute a little bit.”

OSU’s leading scorer and Big Ten Player of the Year, junior guard Kelsey Mitchell, got off to a slow start in the first round versus Western Kentucky, but ended the game with 15 points. In the second round, she scored a more characteristic 21 points, and said she will look to carry that confidence over to Friday’s game.

“(I will) try to stay confident in my game,” she said. “Trying to stay confident in my play and the confidence my teammates and coach have for me. I want to continue to have that confidence, I think that should be fine. Then defensively make sure I’m on my P’s and Q’s as far as not fouling, staying out of foul trouble as much as possible, small stuff like that.”

The Scarlet and Gray will have the advantage of familiarity as they head back to Lexington for their third straight game. OSU traveled to Lexington, Kentucky — the location of the first two rounds. However, the venue is different.

“Even though it’s a different arena — we’re going to play in Rupp (Arena) now — I think being in the same place will bring some comfort to our team,” OSU coach Kevin McGuff said.

Although some might’ve seen playing in Lexington against the hometown Kentucky Wildcats as a disadvantage, McGuff believes it might’ve been for the best.

“I think that tested our resolve a little bit, that Kentucky game, in a tough environment. So we had to show a lot of fortitude, and now you’re going up against one of the best teams in the country, and they’re going to test us in many ways,” he said. “We’re going to have moments where we face adversity, we have to stick together and have to execute. As hard as it was to go on the road, we’re better for it than we would’ve been if we played at home.”

OSU will tipoff against Notre Dame at 7 p.m. Friday.

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