It’s been 30 years since Ohio State made the Elite Eight.
It was in 1993, when a two-liter bottle of Coke Classic cost 99 cents, according to the Morris County Library , and the entire current Buckeye roster wasn’t even born yet.
This can all change Saturday afternoon.
No. 3-seed Ohio State will travel to Seattle to face No. 2-seed UConn at Climate Change Arena with a chance to come out on top in the Sweet 16 and advance to the Elite Eight.
“One thing that we talked about after the games, we’re not getting on the plane to go to Seattle, just happy to be in the Sweet 16,” head coach Kevin McGuff said. “We’re going with a sense of purpose and a sense of focus that you’re going to compete to win.”
The Buckeyes (27-7, 12-6 Big Ten) will have to pass through UConn (31-5, 18-2 Big East), which is competing in its 29th-straight Sweet 16. The Huskies have continued to be one of the country’s top basketball programs under head coach Geno Auriemma, who’s entering his 38th season as UConn’s head coach.
UConn sophomore guard Azzi Fudd scored a team-high 22 points Monday in the Huskies’ win over No. 7 seed Baylor, while junior forward Aaliyah Edwards, the Huskies’ leading scorer this season behind an average of 17 points per game, had 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting.
This season, the Huskies are averaging 76.3 points per game which ranks 26th in Division I women’s college basketball. UConn is outscoring opponents by an average of 17.9 points per game this season, so it’s crucial the Buckeyes don’t fall behind early on.
Ohio State has overcome seven double-digit leads this season, most recently a 16-point deficit on Saturday against No. 14 James Madison in the first round. But against a premier program like UConn, which has a record 11 national championships, it’s important that Ohio State doesn’t settle for too many perimeter shots, McGuff said.
“It’s going to be really important to find a way to get some balance in our offense,” McGuff said. “Get to the rim, get to the free throw line. Just find a way to manufacture some points early on, so we can get a good flow to start the game.”
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, there’s a familiar face across the court they won’t have to study too much: UConn graduate forward Dorka Juhaz. Juhaz transferred from Ohio State two years ago, after averaging nearly a double-double in her first two seasons with the Buckeyes.
The graduate is now averaging 14.2 points and 9.9 rebounds per game for the Huskies. Juhaz, who scored 11 points against Baylor, has played a key role in UConn’s starting lineup.
Especially after the absence of junior guard Paige Bueckers, the 2021 Associated Press Player of the Year who’s dealt with knee injuries the past two years and missed all of this season after tearing her ACL in a pickup game Aug. 1, 2022 — Juhaz’s impact has been important. She is one of five UConn players to average double-digit points this season.
“She’s a really, really good player, very talented,” McGuff said. “I think she’s generally continued to improve and has gotten better, especially playing away from the basket.”
UConn is 6-0 all-time against Ohio State, with the teams last playing on Nov. 24, 2019 in Columbus leading to a 73-63 Huskies win.
Ohio State is coming off a 71-69 victory against No. 6 seed North Carolina on Monday, after senior guard Jacy Sheldon hit a game-winning jumper. Senior guard Taylor Mikesell, the Buckeyes leading scorer averaging 17.2 points per contest, led the team with 17 points on 4-of-8 shooting from 3.
The reemergence of veteran Sheldon in the starting lineup propelled the Buckeyes in the final minutes against the Tar Heels. The All-American tied her best scoring performance since returning to play in the previous five games after a tight minutes restriction.
Sheldon logged in 39:45 of game time on Monday, and scored 16 points, pulling down six boards and dishing out five assists. Freshman forward Cotie McMahon said Sheldon played a vital role in senior forward Eboni Walker’s career-high game against North Carolina because of her ability to create open shots and lock down defensively.
“She can help motivate us all and bring that energy back,” McMahon said. “I feel like in times when we were down against James Madison, that’s when she’s really needed the most is to kind of just pick us up.”
Ohio State has won seven of its last nine games, including a victory over top-seeded Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals after being down by 24 points, making it the largest comeback in Big Ten women’s basketball tournament history. Defense is what ultimately got the Buckeyes back into the game against Indiana and in their matchup versus James Madison.
Ohio State forced 20 turnovers against James Madison and held them to 11 points in the second quarter, as the Buckeyes edged closer in their 16-point comeback and ended the half down by three.
Ohio State is ranked No. 12 in the country in steals per game, averaging 11.4 per contest.
The Buckeyes are also in the top-15 in turnovers forced per game at 20.27, but their tenacious defense can sometimes get them in early foul trouble, a subject McGuff said he’s addressed with the team this week.
“Fouls are going to happen, but we’ve had some, for lack of better terms, dumb fouls and just things that are really avoidable,” McGuff said. “Those are the ones that we got to take care of.”
Friday’s game will have historical significance for both programs. UConn has a chance to extend their Elite Eight streak to 16-straight appearances, while the Buckeyes have a chance to advance to the Final Four, ending a 40-year drought.
“Of course, I’d love to make history, being a freshman, being my first year, obviously, I would have an impact on that,” McMahon said. “So, that definitely would be cool to kind of brag about, but one game at a time.”
Tipoff is set for Saturday at 4 p.m. on ABC.
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