In an effort to shake a stretch of three straight slow starts, Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff tweaked the starting lineup he had used for eight consecutive games.
Ohio State has won quite a bit this season by pushing the pace on offense.
Against Purdue, the Buckeyes managed to win without its offense, instead stepping up on defense and on the boards to eke out a win.
But, in their last three games, during which they went 2-1, the Buckeyes certainly did not win early.
In an effort to shake a stretch of three straight slow starts, Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff tweaked the starting lineup he had used for eight consecutive games. Stephanie Mavunga, Kelsey Mitchell and Sierra Calhoun remained in the starting five Thursday and were joined by Kiara Lewis – who made her first collegiate start – and Alexa Hart, who started in place of Asia Doss and Shayla Cooper.
McGuff said the previous group of five has been a fine lineup, but has had a tougher time starting games, thus his reason for exploring the change.
“Just the fact that in the last three games we haven’t started well and so we kind of started looking at what combinations have been playing well, so we thought we’d start with this one. It’s interesting, because we had the first three games in the Big Ten where we started pretty well, then we had three straight games where we didn’t,” he said. “I look at the lineups, and that lineup that we had been starting actually plays well together over the course of the game, they just haven’t been starting well, so we just wanted to try something different.”
In the Purdue game, the lineup of Mitchell, Mavunga, Calhoun, Cooper and Doss didn’t score in the opening 2:21 and McGuff made his first substitution.
But, to McGuff’s point, it was the same lineup he used for the game’s final 40 seconds, during which the Buckeyes outscored the Boilermakers 4-0 and got a key stop on defense to close out a five-point win.
McGuff said he’s not necessarily tied to the new starting lineup, which opened on an 11-2 run before the first substitution.
“Based on what had happened prior to this game, we’ve got to keep moving that around and make sure we get it right,” McGuff said. “Hopefully today was a positive step in that direction in just with a different lineup and we’ll kind of see where we go from here.”
A month before Maryland visits Columbus should make for a decent time to tinker with lineups. Ohio State’s next seven opponents sit ninth, 12th, 13th, 11th, 14th, seventh and 13th, respectively, in the Big Ten standings.
Mitchell finds her rhythm
It’s rare when Mitchell goes 2 for 14 from three-point range over a two-game span, so it was a welcome sight for the junior when she made her first two three-point attempts in Thursday’s game.
Mitchell had 24 points on 8-of-17 shooting to pace the Buckeyes in the win.
“It’s always good to see one go in. My last two games, it’s been a tough stretch, but I think my teammates have done a good job of making sure things were still in the right position. For myself, like I said, it’s always good to see a shot go in,” Mitchell said. “You hate to be in a slump or whatever you call it. Everybody wants to make shots, but that’s not been the case, so I’m just enjoying the process, embracing the process to see something go in tonight.”
She also had four assists and just one turnover in 37 minutes.
“I thought she was very good,” McGuff said. “Efficient, getting back to a little bit more of what we’re used to seeing with her and we needed it. She needed to be good tonight and she was.”
Wisconsin coach Jonathan Tsipis said the difficult part of guarding Mitchell is that even when the zone effectively pushes her out, she can find other players or make the occasional long three. But by using the zone to keep Mitchell from driving the lane on a regular basis, Wisconsin controlled the pace and kept things close late in the second and fourth quarters.
“I thought in effect we did a good job of trying to keep her in front. I know she can make long threes, and I’ve watched it enough times on film. We pushed her maybe a little bit further out on a couple of them, especially at the end of the quarter and things of that sort,” he said. “When you’re playing zone and you’re trying to manipulate your zone a little bit, it becomes more (about) team awareness on how you’re going to take or at least limit and keep in front a really, really good player.”
No. 16 Ohio State (16-5, 6-1 Big Ten) hosts Illinois (8-11, 3-3) Sunday at 5 p.m. at Value City Arena. The Illini are 0-7 on the road this season.