The Ohio State women’s basketball team has a big early season test on Thursday when it welcomes LSU to Columbus for a showdown at Value City Arena on national television (7:30 p.m., ESPN2).
The fourth-ranked Buckeyes (6-0) are coming off a pair of key road wins – 66-61 over Boston College in overtime, and 68-57 over USC.
The third-ranked Tigers (5-0) have cruised through the early part of their schedule. They’ve won each of their games by a comfortable margin, save a 76-68 victory at No. 13 Texas Tech in the season opener.
Ohio State is led by Jessica Davenport, who is averaging 17.2 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game – all team highs.
The 6-5 junior is widely considered the top center in the country. She was a First-Team All-American selection last year, as well as the Big Ten Player of the Year.
The Buckeyes have plenty of other weapons, forming a quality supporting cast for Davenport, who faces double-teams each game.
Junior guard Brandie Hoskins is having a fine season with averages of 15.3 points and a team-best 4.5 assists.
Sophomore shooting guard Marscilla Packer has stepped her game up this year and has helped fill some of the void left behind when sharpshooter Caity Matter graduated. Packer is averaging 10.3 points and leads the team in 3-point shooting (15 of 31).
Senior guard Kim Wilburn is averaging 7.8 points and leads OSU with 26 steals.
Senior forward Debbie Merrill –a transfer from Cincinnati – is averaging 7.7 points and 5.8 rebounds. She’s still knocking some of the rust off after sitting out a season. She’s playing well, but will only get better as the season progresses.
LSU is led by one of the top players in the country in senior Seimone Augustus. The 6-1 guard/forward is averaging 21.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and recently scored her 2,000th career point.
Other players to watch for the Tigers are 6-6 sophomore center Sylvia Fowles (16.8 points, 8.0 rebounds) and 5-11 sophomore guard Quianna Chaney (10.2 points, 2.6 assists).
Ohio State knows the game will serve as good early-season measuring stick.
“We just want to be focused and be ready to play,” Davenport said. “We want to go out on our home court and play hard. We just want to have fun with the game. It should be exciting. It is a big match-up and there is a lot of hype around the game. But overall, it’s just a regular basketball game. We have to go out there and play it.”
Davenport and Hoskins are familiar with Augustus and Fowles. They all played together over the summer on the United States’ team in the World University Games in Turkey. The U.S. team went undefeated and claimed the gold medal.
“They are great players and I expect them to bring their best game,” Davenport said. “We know it will be a challenge. When we were with them, we really didn’t talk about basketball away from the court. We just tried to have fun.”
Added Hoskins: “I knew they were both great players. Sylvia is one of the most athletic post players I’ve seen in college basketball. She can run and she can jump. She can block shots. We just have to come out and play.”
Davenport is used to teams collapsing on her when she has the ball and she’s expecting the same from LSU, even with Fowles on the floor. And when teams double Davenport, it frees up OSU’s shooters.
“I think that has helped us because it builds confidence in other players,” Davenport said. “Instead of forcing the ball inside to me, they’re able to get good looks at the basket as well.”
Davenport says playing on national television is not a big deal for the Buckeyes. They’ve been there before.
“It’s not the first time we’ve played on national TV,” she said. “We only have one freshman on the team (forward Star Allen) and maybe she’ll be overhyped by it. But the rest of us are used to it.”
Davenport is hoping to see a big crowd at “The Schott.”
“People are saying they can’t wait for this match-up and to see us play this game,” she said. “I think we’ll have a packed house (Thursday). We just need to go out there and perform out there.”
Ohio State had to hang tough in its last two games, but was able to make enough plays to win.
“We’ve had some games where our shots have not been falling,” Hoskins said. “We can’t get down. That’s why we have great defense. That’s what great teams do – they find a way to win – and that’s what we’ve done the last couple of games.”
Hoskins thinks OSU’s tough early-season schedule will benefit the team in the long run.
“It’s great to have games like that early in the year,” she said. “USC and Boston College were two great teams. That’s how it will be all year. We’ll need to get different people to step up every game. If they try to take away our inside game, we’ll have to be able to shoot. Things like that just make us a better team.”
Hoskins sounds confident as she gets ready for the Buckeyes’ toughest game thus far this season.
“People are like, ‘How are you going to play against this LSU team?’ Hey, we’ve been playing good all year,” she said. “We don’t have to wake up for a game because we’ve been ready all year.”
Hoskins says the Buckeyes will not prepare differently for the LSU game. It’s business as usual for OSU head coach Jim Foster.
“Coach has prepared us well this year,” Hoskins said. “We’re not getting up because they’re No. 3. We’re getting up because we have a game. That’s how we take every game. We want to win, regardless of whether they are No. 1 or if they aren’t ranked.”