Five things to know about Ohio State, Sweet 16 matchup in store for UConn women

Tribune Content Agency

When the NCAA Tournament bracket was revealed on March 12, head coach Geno Auriemma had a feeling UConn women’s basketball would end up facing No. 3 seed Ohio State.

“We knew when we saw the brackets come out,” Auriemma said. “We’re like, ‘All right, if we beat whoever we’re playing, I guarantee you they’re going to be waiting.’”

The Huskies and Buckeyes meet in the Sweet 16 at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. ET on ABC.

Here are five things to know about Ohio State and the matchup in store.

How the Buckeyes got here

Before landing as a 3-seed on Selection Sunday, it was quite the up-and-down season for the Buckeyes. They lost Madison Greene to a season-ending knee injury in late December and guard Jacy Sheldon only played six games in the regular season while dealing with a lower leg injury, though she returned for the first game of the postseason on March 3 and has looked more like herself to start the NCAA Tournament.

Ohio State had a program-best start the year, rolling off 19 consecutive victories to be ranked as high as No. 2 in the AP poll in January. But the team then lost five of seven games in the middle of Big Ten play and largely fell off the radar.

The Buckeyes stormed back onto the national scene by knocking off top-seeded Indiana, 79-75, in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. But they were then blown out by Iowa, 105-72, in the title game.

Ohio State kicked off March Madness with an 80-66 win over 14-seed James Madison in the first round. Though the final score might lead you to believe it was an easy win, that certainly wasn’t the case. The Buckeyes trailed by 16 points in the first half before going on a 12-0 run to trim the deficit to three by halftime. They then outscored the Dukes 46-29 in the second half to capture the victory.

In the second round, Ohio State was that one that saw its lead erased. The Buckeyes led sixth-seeded North Carolina by 12 points with a little over seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, but then the Tar Heels went on a 17-4 to take a one-point lead with 2:09 remaining. Then, with the game tied at 69-69 in the final seconds, Sheldon hit a floater for the game-winning bucket. North Carolina had a last second chance, but turned the ball over on the inbounds play.

“We play a team that’s unbelievably good,” Auriemma said. “You talk about teams that cause problems for you, you know, Ohio State, if you watch them play, phew. I think (Kevin) McGuff has done a tremendous job there. For as long as he’s been here, but especially this year, I think he’s done a phenomenal job.”

The Dorka Juhasz game

A matchup against the Buckeyes means a matchup for Dorka Juhász against her former team. The UConn graduate forward played for Ohio State to start her college career from 2018-21 before spending her final two seasons with the Huskies.

Juhász led the Buckeyes in scoring and rebounding in each of her first two seasons. She nearly did the same in her third year, averaging 14.6 points (second on team) and 11.1 rebounds per game (first).

The 6-foot-5 forward was named a First Team All Big Ten selection in 2019-20 and 2020-21, and was a second team honoree in her first season. Reflecting back on her senior day this season, Juhász explained that she wanted to transfer to UConn for a greater challenge to take her game to the next level.

After having her 2021-22 season cut short with a gruesome wrist injury in the Elite Eight and then dealing with a broken thumb earlier this year, Juhász is averaging 14.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks per game for the Huskies.

Juhász said she still has a lot of friends on Ohio State’s roster and that this meeting will “definitely be a little weird.”

“I’m excited to see them, I’m excited to play against them. It will be a very special game for me,” Juhász said. “We always check in with each other, always congratulate each other. That bond is never going to go away, we’re still going to be always friends. I still have a lot of respect for the coaching staff, it wasn’t like a bad goodbye. I graduated there, I transferred here. Maybe it’s a full circle moment to play them in my last season.”

Beware of the press

Ohio State is one of the best teams in the country at forcing opponents to turn the ball over, thanks in large part to an aggressive full-court press.

The Buckeyes average 11.4 steals per game, which ranks eighth in the country and their steal rate of 13% ranks 10th, per Her Hoop Stats. They’ve forced their opponents into an average 20.2 turnovers per game, which ranks 13thh in the nation, per Her Hoop Stats.

Ohio State scored 22 points off 21 James Madison turnovers in the first round. Then in the second round, the Buckeyes scored 16 points off 18 North Carolina turnovers. In their big win over Indiana in the Big Ten semifinal, they scored 21 points off of 18 Hoosier turnovers.

That spells trouble for the Huskies, who have had a turnover issue for much of this season. UConn averaged 16.7 turnovers per game during the regular season, frustrating Auriemma with mental errors and being their own worst enemy at times.

That has improved a bit in the postseason to 13.2 turnovers per game. The Huskies have committed 13 turnovers or less in four of those five postseason games. They coughed the ball up 15 times in the second round against Baylor, but 10 of those came in the first half before they cleaned things up.

“They’re very organized, their press is deadly,” Juhász said of the Buckeyes. “It’s a different style of basketball that we will face. It’ll be something we have to adjust to.”

Players to know

Ohio State has been led by the trio of guard Taylor Mikesell, forward Cotie McMahon and forward Taylor Thierry throughout the season, and now the team is starting to get key production back from Sheldon as well.

Mikesell leads the Buckeyes in scoring with 17.2 points per game, along with with 2.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Mikesell is a sharpshooter from deep. The First Team All Big Ten selection has made 40.9% of her 3-pointers this season, averaging over three triples per game.

McMahon, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, is 14.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Thierry is right behind her with 13.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.1 steals per game, while shooting 65.3% from the field.

Sheldon is averaging 12.4 points, 3.5 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 3.9 steals per game on the season, all the while dealing with the lower leg injury. She’s taken things to another level in her fourth and fifth games back in the NCAA Tournament, however. The senior guard had 17 points, nine assists, five rebounds and two steals in the first round against James Madison and followed it up with 16 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals, as well as the game-winning shot, against North Carolina.

The Buckeyes also have height down low with 6-foot-4 forward Rebeka Mikulasikova, who is averaging 10.7 points and 3.8 assists per game.

History behind the matchup

The Buckeyes have advanced to the Sweet 16 in four of the last seven NCAA Tournaments, but have yet to reach the Elite Eight during that span. They’ve made it to the Elite Eight three times in program history with the last appearance in 1992-93, which was the only time they’ve reached the Final Four.

UConn and Ohio State have only met six times previously. The Huskies are undefeated in those matchups, the most recent of which was a 73-62 win in Columbus in Nov. 24, 2019. This will be their first meeting in the postseason.

Kevin McGuff has been at the helm for the Buckeyes for five of those meetings since taking over the program in 2013. He was head coach at Washington from 2011-13 before that and led Xavier from 2002-11.

The Musketeers weren’t in the Big East at that point, but McGuff does have experience with the conference and going up against the Huskies. He was an assistant under Muffet McGraw at Notre Dame from 1996 to 2002.