No. 6 Ohio State remained on pace for a chance to play for the Big Ten women’s basketball regular season championship by defeating No. 17 Minnesota 76-55 before 8,658 Thursday at UM’s Williams Arena.
OSU guard Marscilla Packer scored a career-high 32 points, going 8-for-10 from three-point range to lead the Buckeyes (22-2, 12-1).
The Buckeyes remained in a first-place tie with No. 10 Purdue (21-3, 12-1), which defeated Michigan 75-50 on Thursday. OSU is headed toward its biggest week of the season as it will host No. 14 Michigan State Monday (7:30 p.m., ESPN2) and then Purdue Thursday (8 p.m., Comcast Sports Net Chicago).
On Thursday, Packer made the Gophers pay for leaving her open on the perimeter. She had 10 of her team's first 14 points, setting the tone for Ohio State's 13th consecutive win and tying the women's single-game school record for three-pointers made.
Center Jessica Davenport had 12 points and eight blocked shots for the Buckeyes, while Debbie Merrill chipped in 10 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
Natasha Williams, who did most of the defensive work on Davenport that kept the Big Ten's leading scorer seven points under her average, had 14 points and seven rebounds for Minnesota (17-7, 9-4).
Jamie Broback led Minnesota with 17 points, which brought some energy to the beginning of the second half and cut the deficit to 35-29 on a pair of free throws by Broback. But Packer answered with a three-pointer on the other end, and the Gophers never got closer.
Though the Buckeyes' strength is with Davenport around the basket, they've got plenty of capable guards. With Packer hitting from the outside, Kim Wilburn and Ashley Allen pushed the pace and applied pesky backcourt pressure in the first half -- wearing the Gophers out.
Broback, her shooting arm wrapped up to protect a bruised right elbow suffered Sunday against Purdue, stole the ball from Tamarah Riley near the top of the key and took it the other way for a contested layup. The subsequent foul shot brought Minnesota within 19-18 with 8:05 left before halftime.
But after coach Pam Borton made a wholesale substitution to give her regulars a rest, Ohio State went on a finger-snap 7-0 run and was right back in control.
Though Davenport only took three shots and was limited to two points, she gave the Gophers something to think about at the buzzer with a forceful, audible block of Kelly Roysland's shot in the lane as the Buckeyes took a 35-25 lead downstairs to the locker room.
If OSU can defeat Michigan State and Purdue next week, it would clinch a share of a second straight conference title. The Buckeyes' last defeat was to the Boilermakers, 61-59 on New Year's Day.