Kentucky and Ohio State narrowly escaped a pair of upstart teams to set up an intriguing second-round matchup in the women’s NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
The fourth-seeded Wildcats (22-10) needed a pair of free throws from sophomore Maci Morris with 3.2 seconds remaining to knock off No. 13 Belmont 73-70 on Friday. Meanwhile, the fifth-seeded Buckeyes (27-6) got 15 points apiece from Kelsey Mitchell and Asia Doss and held off No. 12 Western Kentucky 70-63 in the second game in Lexington, Ky.
“I think playing in the setting of the NCAA Tournament, there’s a little bit of nerves out there from everybody,” Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. “I wanted to get some people in that had played in a game like this before.”
Kentucky made the NCAA Tournament for a program-record eighth consecutive season. The Wildcats have also advanced to the Elite Eight three times.
However, Kentucky got a scare from Belmont, which was looking for its first NCAA Tournament win.
Makayla Epps had a game-high 30 points, while Evelyn Akhator scored 22 for the Wildcats. Morris made seven free throws in the final minute to seal the win.
Kentucky snapped the 21-game winning streak by the Bruins, who last lost on Dec. 14.
“You never know what you will be doing in a game,” Epps said. “The shots were open. Even the ones I missed felt good. If you don’t respect me, I am going to shoot it.”
Ohio State faced a similar challenge from Western Kentucky, which had a large contingent of fans in its home state. Mitchell, the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, made just 5 of 15 shots, but still managed to make a difference and created matchup problems. Doss was a spark off the bench and went 5 of 7 from the field, while Tori McCoy scored 12 points for the Buckeyes, who were co-champions of the Big Ten with third-seeded Maryland.
Doss said the Buckeyes never lost their composure despite facing consistent pressure from the Hilltoppers, who were just 22 of 76 (28.9 percent) from the field. Ohio State, however, had trouble with Western Kentucky’s size and were outrebounded 44-43.
“You just have to go out there and play your game,” Doss said. “It’s win or go home. I feel like that kind of sparks us as a team.”