By Jacob Keith | @JacobKeith55
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — The Iowa Hawkeye zone has caused problems for teams throughout this season, until Ohio State created a surprising, emphatic response Friday night. Starting out on a hot streak that would continue throughout most of the game, the Buckeyes netted 10 field goals on their first 15 shots and put six of their first nine 3-point attempts in the bottom of the net. They played selfless basketball that led to the best shot. All those extra passes helped sixth-seeded Ohio State take down No. 3 Iowa, 87-66, in a quarterfinal of the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Ohio State (20-11), near the end of a season that once held unfamiliar disappointments, will face No. 7 Michigan on Saturday night. Iowa (23-7) defeated the Buckeyes, 77-68, at Iowa City on January 23, a loss that dropped Ohio State’s record to 11-8. But after a loss to Maryland a week later, Ohio State has won nine of its last 11 games. From the start of their quarterfinal victory, the Buckeyes transformed their early-season struggles into a distant memory.
The Buckeyes have averaged 82 points in their two tournament victories. Ohio State has averaged 74.8 points since February 1, an important achievement because the Buckeyes Ohio have not lost when scoring 70 or more points.
The Buckeyes have a history of greatness in the tourney and hope to extend it. They have reached the Big Ten Championship game 11 times, winning six.
In the first three quarters, on the way to a lead of as much as 34 points, the Buckeyes made 27 of 45 shots, or 60 percent. “I believe we were just moving the ball really well, and we always made an extra pass,” said sophomore forward Dorka Juhasz, one of four Buckeye double-figure scorers, who had 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting with 14 rebounds.
Freshman guard Kierstan Bell led Ohio State with 16 points. Junior guard Braxtin Miller scored 15, including 7-of-7 free-throw shooting. Freshman guard Jacy Sheldon scored 14 with five rebounds. Freshman guard Madison Greene added 12 points on 4-for-4 shooting – three from 3-point range – and four rebounds.
“We moved the ball a lot better,” said Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff. “And then we also made shots.”
Lisa Bluder, the coach of the Hawkeyes, conceded the point. “When you’re shooting that well from 3-point range,” she said, “it opens up the inside.”
Winning games like this instills confidence in young players. “We have a really young team with no seniors and just one junior,” McGuff said, “and the goal for us was to continue to get better throughout the year. And if you look where we started and where we are now, we’ve made significant progress, and that’s always the goal.”
One problem that the Buckeyes faced was the foul trouble Juhasz endured in the second half. “It’s tough,” McGuff said. “We rely on her for so much, and she’s so versatile and she plays both ends of the floor so well.”
Ohio State was able to plug the hole that Juhasz left with 6-foot-3 freshman forward Aixa Wone Aranaz. “She [Aranaz] really competed with the post players,” McGuff said, “and she really fought and gave us some great minutes.”
For all of her team’s offensive achievements, Miller thinks that defense was the game changer for the Buckeyes. “I think every time it’s really our defense that’s going to be the deciding factor,” she said.
Iowa senior guard Kathleen Doyle, the Big Ten Player of the Year, scored 16 points with five steals. But Doyle was held to 6-for-18 shooting and committed six of Iowa’s 14 turnovers.
Teams always want to peak in March, and for McGuff and the Buckeyes, that seems to be happening. “What we’ve been kind of building towards is to make sure we’re playing our best basketball at this time of year,” McGuff said.