By Marcus Hartman FOX Sports Ohio | Buckeye Sports Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010
Ohio State’s 11th-ranked women’s basketball team is the only team standing between No. 1 Connecticut and an 88th straight victory that would equal the mark set by the legendary UCLA men’s teams of the early 1970s.
The Buckeyes (8-1) are looking to do more than halt the march of history.
Article continues below ...
On Sunday afternoon in New York, they will try to become the first team to beat the Huskies since the 2008 Final Four and quiet the critics who have seen them falter more often than not on the national stage in recent seasons.
“We know we carry around a label we’re not real happy about, and we’ve got a little chip on our shoulder,” Ohio State head coach Jim Foster said. “I think this group wants to be different, and the understanding of that is it’s every day. It’s every day. And we can’t make any excuses.”
Ohio State is riding a streak of six consecutive Big Ten regular-season championships, but they have advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament only once in the past four years. The Buckeyes soundly lost matchups with highly ranked Maryland, North Carolina, Duke and Louisiana State (twice) in the previous five seasons, although they swept a home-and-home with Oklahoma in 2005 and ’06 and split a pair of games with Rutgers.
This season, Ohio State has scored victories against unranked LSU and Virginia along with No. 12 Oklahoma, but a loss at No. 24 Syracuse on Dec. 11 brought back questions about the Buckeyes’ readiness to join the nation’s elite.
From a star standpoint, neither team is lacking.
Ohio State has senior All-America center Jantel Lavender and All-Big Ten junior point guard Samantha Prahalis. UConn leans heavily on two-time national player of the year Maya Moore as well as fellow double-digit scoring guards Tiffany Hayes and Bria Hartley.
Guards Tayler Hill and Brittany Johnson are also double-figure scorers for the Buckeyes.
“I think we have weapons,” Prahalis said. “Every one of us can contribute something. All of us can shoot, and we have a great post player and great outside people.”
Connecticut’s biggest challenge will be stopping Lavender with a group of young post players who have at times drawn the scorn of head coach Geno Auriemma this year. Ohio State, meanwhile, will have its hands full with the versatile Moore on the perimeter.
Long-range shooting could be the difference. Ohio State led the nation at 40.2 percent from 3-point range last season but is down to just 26.5 percent this year despite the return of top shooters Brittany Johnson and Sarah Schulze.
Contributions from Schulze and Johnson figure to be key. Schulze was 0 for 5 from beyond the arc in the loss to Syracuse. Johnson made 3 of 8.
On the season, Johnson is 16 for 41 (39.0 percent), but Schulze has yet to find a rhythm. She is only 6 for 24 (25.0 percent) as a senior after making 57 of 138 (41.3 percent) last season.
The Huskies, who won their first nine games this season by more than 38 points per game, do a lot of things well, but perimeter shooting and defense are areas in which they have looked vaguely human at times.
Even if they are making shots, the Buckeyes know they cannot let up at any point against the relentless Huskies.
“No one on this team wants to get embarrassed,” Lavender said. “UConn does not take plays off. We do have the necessary pieces to play a 40-minute game, and I think we have to take that intensity that they have the whole game in order to contend with them because if we take one play off that’s when their lead starts to build.”
Consistency has been a big talking point early in the season, as has mental toughness as Foster tries to mold a team that will deal with adversity better than his earlier squads that did not end the season where they wanted to be.
While Foster tried to avoid putting too much emphasis on one nonconference game, he acknowledged a test against the best should end up being a big part of how this team develops.
“My point has been to them and will continue to be: ‘You can’t wake up Sunday and say you’re going to play hard today if you don’t play hard every day. You’ve got to make that who you are,’ ” Foster said. “And I think we’re slowly learning that lesson. You can’t blame others. You’ve got to be one of those people who looks in the mirror. If you don’t hold yourself accountable, you can’t get better. We can’t get better if it’s always something else.
“Connecticut holds themselves accountable better than anybody else, so if you want to be like that, you better act like it. If you want to beat them, you have to be like them. It’s simple.”