Ohio State stuns UConn 73-61 to advance to women's basketball Elite Eight
SEATTLE — In 1993, the Ohio State women's basketball team made its first and only trip to the Final Four. In every NCAA Tournament since then — all 29 of them — Connecticut has made it at least to the Sweet 16, has won 11 national championships and has made 14 straight Final Fours, while the Buckeyes haven't made it past the Sweet 16.
On Saturday at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, facing the Huskies in the Sweet 16, Ohio State changed that. With an 73-61 win, the Buckeyes snapped UConn's historic Final Four streak and are in the Elite Eight for the first time since the Katie Smith-led Final Four run 30 years ago.
Freshman forward Cotie McMahon, unafraid of the largest stage she's played on, led the Buckeyes with 23 points.
The Buckeyes will play No. 1 seed Virginia Tech on Monday for a spot in the Final Four. Virginia Tech defeated 73-64 Tennessee on Saturday.
"We have tremendous respect for Connecticut and all that they have accomplished forever, but certainly this year," Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. "I told the team, they certainly have had incredible success that no one will ever match again as a program. But they have a really good team this year. They just started getting healthy at the right time. I think we beat one of the best teams in the country today."
The first four minutes were the exact kind of start Ohio State was looking to avoid. UConn built a 10-2 lead, as the Buckeyes struggled to slow the Huskies down in the half court and couldn't score at the other end of the floor.
But after a timeout with 5:57 left in the first quarter, Ohio State no longer looked helpless in the face of UConn's talent. The tide didn't immediately turn, but the Buckeyes began to settle in and slowly chipped away at the Huskies' lead. By the 3:57 mark, led by a layup and a made free throw by McMahon, they'd cut the lead to five points, and started to force more and more turnovers with their full-court press.
"Our goal is to make teams feel uncomfortable and speed them up a little bit," senior guard Jacy Sheldon said. "When we get turnovers and finishes, that just gets us more excited to continue to do that throughout the game."
The Huskies had a scoring drought from 2:37 left in the first quarter to 5:27 of the second. By the end of the first quarter, Ohio State trailed by just two points, and the Buckeyes forced four turnovers over the final three minutes of the quarter.
McMahon, who entered the game 13 of 52 from beyond the arc on the season, hit a 3 to give Ohio State its first lead just over a minute into the second quarter, and she came right back down the floor to make another 41 seconds later. By the time the Huskies ended their scoring drought, the Buckeyes had come from eight points down to take a seven-point lead, 26-19.
By the end of the first half, UConn trailed 36-26 — just the fifth time in NCAA Tournament history that UConn faced a double-digit deficit at halftime. The Huskies were 0-5 in those games, and they're now 0-6.
The Buckeyes forced 18 turnovers in the first half, two more than the Huskies' average of 16 per game, and 25 in the game.
"Ohio State just outplayed us and took us out of a bunch of stuff that we want to do," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "It's unfortunate that we chose tonight to play the way we did, but I think Ohio State had so much to do with that. I thought Kevin's team was really, really good and really well prepared. They knew exactly what they wanted to do and what to take away from us.
"We lost our balance and we lost our equilibrium a little bit and I don't think we ever got it back."
To open the third quarter, the teams traded baskets, but a nearly-four minute scoring drought for Ohio State in the middle of the quarter gave UConn an opening. The Huskies took advantage, making four baskets in a row to get within five points at 44-39.
But out of the ensuing timeout, senior guard Taylor Mikesell made a jump shot — just her second basket of the game — to put the Buckeyes back up by seven, and Ohio State remained just far enough in front for the rest of the quarter. Every time it looked like UConn could break the game open, the Buckeyes responded, refusing to let the Huskies get on a roll.
Guard Azzi Fudd cut the lead to eight with 21 seconds left in the third quarter, but Thierry's layup with just four seconds left put Ohio State back up by 10 points heading into the final 10 minutes.
Mikesell was visibly playing through pain — often receiving treatment on her hamstrings during timeouts — but she made her first 3-pointer of the game to open the fourth quarter. She finished with just nine points, only the third time she's scored in single digits this season, but she played 38:31 despite not being 100% healthy.
"(Mikesell) will run through a brick wall for any of us, even if she's on one leg," Sheldon said. "She's as tough as it gets. She's an amazing player. ... She creates driving lanes for every single person on this team because she's so dangerous offensively. She's an incredible person, a great teammate, and she's tough as nails."
Moments after Mikesell's 3, redshirt junior guard Rikki Harris went on a solo 5-0 run, with two free throws and a 3, to give Ohio State a 16-point lead, its largest of the game. UConn chipped into the deficit from that point.
But after the Huskies got within 10 points with 4:31 to go, on the next possession, McMahon rolled in a layup with just two seconds left on the shot clock, drew a foul and calmly made the free throw to complete the three-point play. UConn had several opportunities to get back in the game over the final three minutes, but Ohio State never allowed it.
With under 30 seconds left, Sheldon could calmly dribble at the top of the key, just waiting for the clock to run out and secure the Buckeyes' historic victory.
"You don't, obviously, want to come into a game expecting to lose or kind of even being nervous," McMahon said. "I feel like, we as a team, we weren't nervous. We looked at it as any other game. I feel like that's really what helped us not to feed in to the fact that they are UConn, this great program, and not to feed into the media and how much they were hyping UConn up.
"We really stayed in our lane, stayed focused, and believed in each other, and I feel like that's really what set us apart from other teams, who lose the game before it even tips off."
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio State stuns UConn in Sweet 16 to advance to NCAA women's tournament Elite Eight