Ohio State’s win over UConn on Saturday was one worthy of celebration. But Kevin McGuff told his team to celebrate for only a few hours.
While beating the Huskies was a big accomplishment for the Buckeyes, who earned their first Sweet 16 win since 1993 while handling UConn its first Sweet 16 loss since 2005, Ohio State has aspirations of going even further in the NCAA Tournament. So McGuff told his players to be ready to turn the page as soon as they found out who they would be playing in the Elite Eight on Monday.
|No. 1 Virginia Tech (30-4)
|Climate Pledge Arena (Seattle, Wash.)
“I told the team then, we can be excited about that until the Tennessee-Virginia Tech game is over and we know who we're playing, and we're kind of switching gears at that point,” McGuff said of what he told his team after the UConn win. “We got up today (Sunday) and as a staff we met and obviously went through some scouting and strategy ideas, then we showed film to the team to really get them in the right frame of mind to focus on Virginia Tech … So I think we're in a good place that way and our mindset is focused on Virginia Tech, which is the only thing that matters at this point.”
The Buckeyes’ veteran leaders shared a similar message with their teammates, knowing they still need to win another game in Seattle in order to make the Final Four, which will be held in Dallas next weekend.
“I told 'em, ‘We're not here for one game.’ I said, ‘We're trying to solidify the ticket to Dallas.’ So I said, ‘Let's celebrate it right now and once we change and get dressed, it's on to the next one,’” redshirt junior guard Rikki Harris said. “We got one more game to knock out.”
While Ohio State was a 10.5-point underdog going into Saturday’s Sweet 16 game against UConn, the Buckeyes are only a two-point underdog against Virginia Tech. While the Huskies had made 14 straight Final Fours before their loss to Ohio State, Virginia Tech has never made the Final Four. Still, the Buckeyes must be prepared for another step up in competition against the Hokies.
Virginia Tech is a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for a reason – that reason being the Hokies are 30-4 this season, having won their last 14 straight games. The Hokies have four double-digit scorers, including second-team AP All-American center Elizabeth Kitley, who has averaged 18 points and 10.7 rebounds per game this season. Point guard Georgia Amoore has scored at least 21 points in all of Virginia Tech’s last five games and led all players in the NCAA Tournament with 16 made 3-pointers in the first three rounds.
|JACY SHELDON (12.8 PPG, 3.7 APG, 3.8 SPG)
|GEORGIA AMOORE (16.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 5.1 APG)
|TAYLOR MIKESELL (17.0 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 40.5 3P%)
|KAYANA TRAYLOR (10.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 3.0 APG)
|TAYLOR THIERRY (13.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 62.6 FG%)
|CAYLA KING (8.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 37.1 3P%)
|COTIE MCMAHON (15.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 51.2 FG%)
|TAYLOR SOULE (11.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 51.8 FG%)
|EBONI WALKER (4.8 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.5 APG)
|ELIZABETH KITLEY (18.0 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 2.2 BPG)
The Hokies have been strong defensively, holding their opponents to an average of just 57.1 points per game this year, and they pride themselves on their physicality on both ends of the floor. They’ve been both efficient and dominant over the last two months, with only one of their 14 straight wins coming by fewer than nine points.
McGuff says the Buckeyes have to be ready for a challenge on both sides of the floor.
“They've played really, really well,” McGuff said. “They play great basketball. They're a very balanced team. They can score around the basket. They spread you out with great shooters. So we know we're going to have our hands full and it's going to be a big challenge.”
Kitley, at 6-foot-6, could present a particular challenge for Ohio State, which has just one player who plays regularly that is taller than 6 feet (6-foot-4 forward Rebeka Mikulasikova).
“She's really versatile. “She can score around the basket. She's got a nice touch. But she can also step away 15, 16, 17 feet and make shots. She's good off the pick-and-roll, kind of pick-and-pop into the mid-range,” McGuff said. “Usually, we're playing post players that are good on the perimeter or they're good around the basket, and she's kind of good at both. And it makes it a really difficult matchup.”
Ohio State, though, has no plans to back down from any challenge. The Buckeyes proved that with their convincing 73-61 win over UConn, which also had a size advantage over Ohio State, and they’ll enter Monday’s game with the same belief in themselves that propelled them to victory on Saturday.
“We go into every game basically the same: we focus on what we can do best and just go from there,” starting center Eboni Walker said Sunday. “As long as we play our game, we have the utmost confidence in ourselves and in each other.”
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What the Buckeyes have often done best this season is force turnovers through the use of their full-court press defense, and that could be Ohio State’s recipe for success once again Monday night. The Buckeyes forced UConn into 25 turnovers, including 18 in the first half, and Virginia Tech had its own issues against the press in its Sweet 16 game against Tennessee, who forced 12 second-half Hokie turnovers in the process of a near-comeback on Saturday, cutting an 18-point lead down to just one before Virginia Tech ultimately won 73-64.
Amoore admitted Sunday that the Hokies weren’t expecting Tennessee to press as much as it did, so she expects her team to fare better against Ohio State’s press with more preparation.
“We didn't really prepare for Tennessee to press like that leading up to it,” Amoore said. “We should have understood that better, but we have plenty of press breaks and I'm sure we'll go over some of that today. But I think just being really intentional, we can't throw any lob passes or we can't have any sloppy plays in that press.”
McGuff said the Buckeyes would study how Tennessee’s press bothered the Hokies and try to apply it to their own game plan against Virginia Tech, but he also said Ohio State has to be careful with how dangerous the Hokies can be when they break the press.
“They are very quick up the court, so our transition defense will have to be exceptional,” McGuff said. “I also think too if we're pressing, we got to be really effective with our pressure and mindful on the back end that they can throw it ahead and take quick shots that are good shots for them.”
While neither Virginia Tech nor Ohio State has the championship-winning history in women’s basketball that the teams they just beat did, both of them have a lot of respect for each other. McGuff and Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks consider each other to be friends, and the Hokies said they aren’t expecting the matchup with Ohio State to be any easier than a game against UConn would have been.
“Ohio State is still a very good team,” Amoore said. “UConn or not, we're still playing a very talented team.”
Like the Buckeyes, though, the Hokies aren’t satisfied with simply being in the Elite Eight. While that is also a notable achievement for Virginia Tech, which had never won a Sweet 16 game before Saturday, the Hokies feel like they’re not only supposed to be in the Elite Eight but that they’re more than capable of continuing to advance.
“We're a 1 seed, so it's still business at hand,” Brooks said. “It doesn't matter if it was UConn in front of us, Ohio State or the Lakers. We're going to come and we're going to lock in and we're going to focus, because we know that we still have to play a great opponent to get to where we want to get to.”
Virginia Tech guard Cayla King said the Hokies “didn't come this far to just make it this far.” But the Buckeyes will be just as hungry to extend their run as they look to earn Ohio State’s first Final Four berth in 30 years – and just its second Final Four berth ever, as the Buckeyes’ run to the national championship game in 1993 was their only previous Final Four appearance.
“At this point, it's win or go home, so everybody's going to give it their all. So we're just going to have to play hard,” Harris said.
Monday’s game in Seattle is scheduled to tip off at 9 p.m. ET and will be televised on ESPN. The winner of Monday’s game will advance to play No. 3 seed LSU in the national semifinals at either 7 p.m. or 9:30 p.m. Friday.
How It Plays Out
Line: Virginia Tech -2, O/U 140.5
As good as Virginia Tech has been all season and especially over the past two months, the Hokies haven’t beaten any team that was ranked higher than 12th in the final AP poll before the NCAA Tournament. Ohio State has proven its ability to beat elite teams with its wins over UConn and over Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, and if the Buckeyes can continue to play at the same level against the Hokies, they are more than capable of punching their ticket to the Final Four on Monday night.
Prediction: Ohio State 70, Virginia Tech 66