(AP) – On the eve of the NCAA Tournament, Ohio State is still trying to shake off the shock and disappointment of its late-season swoon.
Ohio State, once ranked as high as No. 5, had stacked up an 11-game winning streak going into the last week of the season and was vying for a piece of the regular-season Big Ten crown. Instead OSU dropped overtime games to Minnesota and Michigan State.
Then the Buckeyes lost their second-best player, senior guard Ameryst Alston, to a wrist injury in the Big Ten tournament. Without her, they were run over by Michigan State in a quarterfinal matchup. They dropped in the poll to No. 9.
Article continues below ...
Alston, who averages 18.6 points, likely will play in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday in Columbus. The No. 3 seed Buckeyes (24-7) face No. 14 Buffalo (20-13).
''Obviously, I think that last game showed how much she means, from a leadership standpoint and on the floor,'' senior guard Cait Craft said. ''To have her back out there will be a big deal.''
Ohio State's fortunes also tend to turn on the play of sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell. An incredible 3-point threat, Mitchell led the team with an average of 25.7 points. She had three 40-point games this season and is fourth in the country in scoring.
Buffalo is paced by a pair of swift guards, junior Joanna Smith (18.1 ppg) and sophomore Stephanie Reid (10.5).
The Buckeyes' usual home court, the Schottenstein Center, is occupied with the state boys high school basketball tournament this weekend, so the pair of first-round games are being played at venerable St. John Arena.
Ohio State is making its 23rd NCAA Tournament appearance while the Bulls are making their first. After finishing third in the Mid-American Conference East Division, they won their first-ever conference tournament, beating Central Michigan in overtime.
''We just need to show our heart,'' Reid said of playing in front of a national audience. ''We want to show our story. We want to tell people where we've been. We're going to do that through how hard we play. We're going to get after every single 50-50 ball. Every possession we're going to fight. We're not going to go down easily.''
That may not be an easy task against an Ohio State team that ranks third in the nation with 86.7 points per game.
''Sometimes when Ohio State is forced to slow down, they get frustrated,'' coach Felisha Legette-Jack said. ''We're not going fast – whether we have to get a 10-second call or a 30-second clock violation – they're going to have to take it from us. We're going to go at our pace and I think if we slow them down just a tad bit, it will be in our favor.''