OSU Looking For Second Finals Berth Under Foster
If form holds true, then the top-seeded Ohio State women's basketball team should make it through to the finals of the Big Ten tournament.
But, since form never holds true in this thing, you can bet there will be all kinds of drama when the Buckeyes (28-3) take on fourth-seed Minnesota (23-6) in the first of two semifinal games today in Indianapolis.
OSU beat the Gophers 65-53 in Columbus Feb. 17, holding the visitors to just 34.5 percent shooting from the floor.
The odds of that happening again seem slim, especially after the way Minnesota held on to beat Purdue 71-68 to make its first-ever appearance in the tournament semis.
"The game will be different," OSU coach Jim Foster said. "They're all different. Coaches look at tape and evaluate what worked and what didn't work. Minnesota is very well coached, and they have very good players. The bottom line this late in the season is that it's a page out of a book we've already seen and we just have to react.
"Games at this time of the year are so much better played, because players have a wider frame of reference. Minnesota is a very good defensive team, very strong physically and a good basketball team."
It starts with center Janel McCarville, an often otherworldy talent who can shoot, rebound and pass. She had 22 points and nine rebounds in the win over Purdue and 22 points and eight boards in the regular season meeting with the Buckeyes.
She's the key to what the Gophers want to do, and just about everyone on the OSU bench knows that.
"I'm going to have to do my best against her," OSU center Jessica Davenport said. "She's a smart player, and she makes the players around her better. I'm going to have to match her physical play and be smart myself."
Minnesota would like to put the previous game between themselves and OSU in the past, and ride the confidence that a four-game winning streak has brought.
"Obviously that wasn't a game I was very proud of," forward Jamie Broback said. "We didn't shoot well and our defense wasn't the best. But going into this game, I think we have a lot more confidence."
Gophers coach Pam Borton has seen some bumps in the road but believes her team is firing on all cylinders, and won't back down from the challenge.
"We're getting better as the season goes on," Borton said. "We talked as a team and we know that we're going to get better because we're such a young team. Even last night we got better. Our kids showed resolve and came from behind to win. We're excited about being able to play Ohio State."
The game tips off at 3:30, and will be followed by the other semifinal, matching second-seed Michigan State against No. 3 Penn State at approximately 6 p.m.
A few things of note as the Buckeyes prepare to face the Gophers --
* This is Minnesota's first-ever appearance in the tournament semifinals, while OSU is going for the sixth time (2-3 mark).
* The No. 1 and No. 4 seeds have played on four occasions, and the four seed has an impressive 3-1 record.
* OSU is 2-0 against Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament, winning in 1996 (78-64) and last year (58-50) in the quarterfinals. The two have never met in the semis.
* The Buckeyes have made the finals on two different occasions, in 1995 (against Penn State) as the seventh seed and in 2003 (against Purdue) as the fourth seed. OSU lost both contests.
WHAT TO WATCH: The tempo of the game. The Gophers have no problem slowing it down and letting McCarville touch the ball on every possession, so it will be imperative for the Buckeyes to show that they can play solid half-court basketball. When teams have tried to slow it down lately, OSU has made a lot of offensive miscues. The Buckeyes turned it over 16 times against Wisconsin, most on lazy cross-court passes. They tend to lose focus and look for a flashy play instead of working the ball for an open shot.
Broback had a horrible game the last time out against OSU, going just 3-of-12 and finishing with nine points, but made a statement against Purdue, scoring 28 points. Her size, along with McCarville's and the return of sophomore Liz Podominick, who didn't play in the first meeting, could be huge for the Gophers, which had the second best rebounding margin in conference play (+6.1).
Look for Minnesota to try to pound it inside offensively and for the Gophers to play predominantly a 2-3 zone, with special attention paid to Davenport.
If the Buckeyes can force some turnovers -- the Gophers were eighth in the league in turnover margin, OSU fourth -- then they can get out and run, which would be to their favor. Ashley Allen and Brandie Hoskins are dangerous in the open court, and the Gophers don't have many answers on the perimeter if the Buckeyes outside game is hitting.
PREDICTION: OHIO STATE 73, MINNESOTA 68 in overtime.