The Ohio State women’s basketball team is busy preparing for the Big Ten Tournament. But the Buckeyes took some time out of their schedules this week to collect several awards.
Junior center Jessica Davenport repeated as the Big Ten’s Player of the Year (coaches, media). In league games, the 6-5 Davenport scored 20.4 points per game. She also led the conference in field goal percentage (.662) and blocked shots (3.5 per game), and finished second in rebounding (8.2 rpg).
In all games thus far for the 25-2 Buckeyes, Davenport is averaging 19.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per game.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Davenport said. “It’s nice that the coaches and media voted me in. All the hard work pays off. Hard work gets you a long way. My teammates, they’re great and I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Davenport was asked which area of her game improved the most this season.
“I think in the high post,” she said. “Just with the addition of Debbie Merrill, she’s been a great presence down low. Me being able to get her the ball down low, that’s something that I needed to work on and I think I improved at it.”
Ohio State head coach Jim Foster was pleased to see Davenport silence any doubters with her strong play the second half of this season.
“Yeah, as crazy as this business is, someone had to rush to judgment in December and said she had regressed,” Foster said. “I hope their tongue hurts. It was a writer.”
Foster has noticed specific improvements in Davenport’s game this year.
“She can score on both blocks,” he said. “She’s a little bit better on the right block than she was last year. She can shoot a three. She does both of those better than she did last year.”
Foster was tabbed as the Big Ten’s Coach of the Year (coaches, media). He shared the award with Michigan State’s Joanne McCallie last season, but has it all to himself this year.
“I thank my team,” Foster said. “Coaches just coach players and I think they all did a great job.”
Ohio State senior guard Kim Wilburn was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year by the coaches. Wilburn led the Big Ten with 3.1 steals per game this year and is second all-time in the Big Ten with 353 career steals.
“I told the team today that she’s one of four (OSU) players that could have won that award in my opinion,” Foster said. “When you lead the country in something – there’s 326 or something Division I schools – so when you’re first in something, and we’re first in fewest points given up, it’s not one person. It’s a philosophy. Any number of players could have won it. But I’m really happy for Kim though because I think sometimes she is not thought of in the terms that she needs to be thought of.”
Wilburn is also a talented singer. So, the question begged to be asked: Is she a better singer, or defensive player?
“Well, since we’re winning games, I’ll say better defensive player,” Davenport said. “I just like the way she plays defense. She’s playing hard. In the summertime, she worked on all parts of her game and I’m pretty excited for her right now.”
Also for the Buckeyes, sophomore shooting guard Marscilla Packer was named third team All-Big Ten (coaches, media), junior guard Brandie Hoskins was named third team by the media and honorable mention by the coaches, and Merrill, a senior forward, was named third team by the coaches and honorable mention by the media.
Off to the Big Ten Tournament
Ohio State enters the Big Ten Tournament with the top seed and the No. 5 national ranking. The Buckeyes will play in the first quarterfinal at noon on Friday at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis against either No. 8 Penn State (12-15, 6-10 Big Ten) or No. 9 Wisconsin (11-17, 5-11 Big Ten). The Lady Lions and Badgers meet at 3 p.m. Thursday in first-round play.
Foster was asked how much priority he places on the Big Ten Tournament and whether it might take away focus from the bigger prize: the NCAA Tournament.
“No, maybe a young coach (would think that way),” Foster said. “I think we’re playing for a seeding and we understand that. I think there are some teams … look at the recent history of the Big Ten Tournament. Both Indiana and Iowa came in with lower expectations and walked away with the NCAA bid. So, I think it takes on a lot of different forms for teams.”
Ohio State will be in a good position to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if it wins the Big Ten Tournament.
“Yeah, I think if we’re sitting there at 28-2, there’s some pretty good arguments in the room,” Foster said. “They look at things like injuries. We didn’t have Ashley Allen when we played LSU and she didn’t start against Purdue. I think we’re 17-0 with her as our starting point guard. So, if we were fortunate enough to win this thing, you can get someone to make that argument in the room when they are discussing seeding. We have to take care of our own business at this point.”
Foster says there is no question that OSU is a better team this season. The Buckeyes finished 30-5 last season.
“I think a lot,” Foster said. “We’re better defensively. And much better at taking care of the ball. And we have more ways to score.”
Davenport agreed with her coach.
“I think we’re a lot better than last year,” she said. “We’re more diverse and a lot more experienced. Everybody here except Star (Allen) experienced that loss last year. We’re going in with a chip on our shoulder and I think if we play our best basketball we’ll be successful.”
Davenport was asked for the keys to winning the Big Ten Tournament.
“Just make sure we take care of our business,” she said. “We lost to Minnesota in a tight game down the stretch last year, and this year we’re just going to take it one game at a time and try and get that championship.”