The Ohio State women’s basketball team will attempt to reach the NCAA’s Sweet 16 for the first time in 12 years tonight, but the task will not be easy.
The Buckeyes (29-4), seeded second in the Philadelphia Region, will play seventh-seeded Maryland (22-9) on the Terrapins’ home floor at the Comcast Center in College Park, Md. The game is set for a 9:30 p.m. tip and will be televised regionally by ESPN2.
Playing on hostile home courts is just a fact of life in the NCAA women’s tournament. OSU coach Jim Foster, making his 19th tournament appearance, is not losing any sleep over it.
"I would hope that we're past the point of referees being intimidated by where they are, or knowing where they are in terms on home and away,” said Foster, who is 27-18 all-time in NCAA games and has led eight of his teams to at least the Sweet 16. “I would really like to think that our game has grown past that. This time of year, I spend absolutely no time thinking about where we are. It's just wasted energy."
Ohio State has been on both sides of the NCAA homecourt issue. In Foster’s first year with the Buckeyes in 2002-03, OSU got into the Big Dance as a four seed. The Buckeyes were rewarded by playing at fifth-seeded Louisiana Tech, which cruised to a 74-61 win over OSU in the second round.
Then, last year, the Buckeyes hosted first- and second-round action as a sixth seed. But it did not help as third-seeded Boston College came into St. John Arena – games were held there because of a conflict with high school action at Value City Arena – and swept OSU out of the tournament with a 63-48 win.
Speaking at Monday’s media day, OSU players sounded confident.
“I think it's going to be a great atmosphere,” said OSU senior guard Caity Matter, who had 12 points in OSU’s 86-45 pounding of Holy Cross in Sunday’s opening round game. “It's going to be a great game. We've played on the road all season. It's just going to be another road game for us. But I think it's going to be a great atmosphere for the ball game."
OSU was led by center Jessica Davenport’s 23-point, 11-rebound effort in the win over Holy Cross. Twelve OSU players scored in the easy win, including guard Brandie Hoskins, who added 14 points and eight rebounds.
"We've been playing in atmospheres like this all year,” Hoskins said. “All we have to do is keep doing what we've been doing - communicating, just talking out there a lot. The crowd's going to do what they're going to do. We just have to communicate on the floor and get the job done and not worry about the crowd."
The 6-5 Davenport, previously announced as the Big Ten player of the year, received good news on Sunday. The sophomore was named as one of four finalists for the Naismith Trophy by the Atlanta Tipoff Club. The award, which honors the Player of the Year in women's basketball, will be presented at a banquet April 8 in Atlanta.
Davenport is joined by LSU's Seimone Augustus, Duke's Monique Currie and TCU's Sandora Irvin as finalists.
For the year, Davenport, a sophomore, has averaged 19.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game. She has shot 59.5 percent from the floor and 77.8 percent from the foul line.
Foster was asked what makes Davenport special: "Maturity. They say the average post player in the NBA matures at the age of 29. If you look back, that's about when [Hakeem] Olajuwon won his two championships, that's when Patrick Ewing took his team to the NBA finals, that's when Shaquille O'Neal started to win. It's sort of uncanny, the correlation there.
“In Jess' case, I think she's so mature that she's accelerated that process. Bigs have a tough time maturing. It's very difficult to be super-sized in your society, and learning how to deal with that. For her to have that in such perspective, I'm not dealing with a normal 19-year-old. The fact that she is mature allows her to process things a lot quicker. I don't have to spend any time, as you do with a lot of young bigs, with the emotional part of it. She's just got it together in those areas. It's just about basketball."
Davenport is joined in double figures by Matter at 13.4 points per game and Hoskins at 12.9. Matter has hit 44.4 percent (68 of 153) of her three-point tries, while Hoskins is 46.9 percent (15 of 32) behind the arc.
Maryland has won four of its last five games coming into tonight’s game. The loss was a 74-44 decision at the hands of Duke in the ACC tournament semifinal.
The Terrapins won their NCAA opener over 10th-seeded Wisconsin-Green Bay 65-55. Guard Shay Doron led Maryland with 26 points, while freshman forward Crystal Langhorne added 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Doron leads Maryland at 17.8 points per game, while Langhorne checks in at 17.0 points and 10.5 rebounds a game. Guard Kalika France averages 11.0 points per game as well.
"They've got a lot of great players that like to push the ball up and down the court,” Davenport said of Maryland. “They've got a great team. Tomorrow night we have to come out ready to play. There's been a lot of upsets, but we're here to win. The crowd's going to do what they're liable to do, but we're here to win. We want to come out here and play Ohio State basketball."
Davenport recognizes she could have her hands full with the 6-3 Langhorne.
"It's going to be a tough match-up tomorrow,” Davenport said. “I have a very physical game, and she's a physical player. I'll just try to take away what she's good at tomorrow."
The winner of the Ohio State-Maryland game will advance to the regional semifinals Sunday in Philadelphia. The winner will face the winner of the Temple-Rutgers game, which will also be played at 9:30 p.m. tonight.
* Ohio State picked up win No. 29 on the season with its 86-45 victory against Holy Cross Sunday in the first round of the NCAA tournament to establish a program record for wins in a single season. The 29th victory surpassed the 28 contests won by the 1992-93 national runner-up squad that finished with a 28-4 record. The 1984-85 team also recorded 28 wins against three losses.
Purdue holds the all-time Big Ten mark for wins in a season with 34 in 1998-99.
* The win Sunday vs. Holy Cross upped Ohio State's all-time NCAA tournament record to 16-13. The first-round game Sunday marked the 14th appearance for an Ohio State team in the NCAA tournament.
The Buckeyes advanced to the Final Four in 1992-93 and to at least the Sweet 16 for five straight years between 1985-89. That includes two Elite Eight appearances (1985 and '87).
* The 41-point win over Holy Cross Sunday tied the second-largest by an Ohio State team in NCAA tournament play. The Buckeyes also won by 41 points March 20, 1988 by a 116-75 count against Syracuse in the second round. Ohio State defeated Holy Cross in the second round of the 1985 NCAA Tournament by a 102-60 score March 17 in St. John Arena, a 42-point margin.
* Ohio State and Maryland have met twice in their history, with both matchups coming in the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes won the first meeting, 87-71, in the second round of the 1986 NCAA Tournament March 16 in St. John Arena. Nikita Lowry led the Buckeyes with 26 points and eight rebounds.
The teams met two seasons later in the regional semifinals of the 1988 tournament. Maryland turned the tables on the Buckeyes with a 78-66 victory in Atlanta. Lowry captained the Buckeyes again with 15 points and a game-high five steals.
* Matter moved to within one point of the 1,500 career mark after scoring 12 points against Holy Cross Sunday. Matter sits in 10th place all-time with 1,499 career tallies.
With one more score, Matter will become the 10th player at Ohio State to score 1,500 career points.
* Ohio State has played in 10 second-round games in its 15 appearances in the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes boast a 6-4 mark in those contests, but have dropped second-round decisions in each of the last two seasons.
* ESPN2 will be showing four different games during the 9:30 p.m. window. Those in Ohio should get full coverage of OSU-Maryland. Outside the state, ESPN2 has provided a coverage map. Most of the country will get “whiparound” coverage, allowing them to view key moments of any close games. ESPN2’s coverage will also center on the Tennessee-Purdue game, where coach Pat Summit will go for a record 880th win.
Of course, Tennessee, as the one seed in the Philadelphia Region, is a potential opponent for OSU if they both advance to the regional finals.
Here is a link to ESPN2’s coverage map for tonight’s games:
ESPN2 Coverage Map