Buckeyes excited for return to Big Dance

After two years on the outside looking in, Ohio State will be part of the 2015 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.

What was expected became official Monday night as Ohio State was selected for the NCAA women's basketball tournament.

The Buckeyes will play in the Big Dance for the first time since 2012 when they lost in the first round to Florida as a No. 8 seed. They last won an NCAA tournament game in 2011 when they went to the Sweet 16.

This time around Ohio State will be the No. 5 seed in the Greensboro regional and take on No. 12 James Madison. The Dukes won the Colonial Athletic Association with a 17-1 record. They are 29-3 overall with their only losses coming to Big Ten champion Maryland 80-64 in November, Vanderbilt 66-62 in December and to CAA foe Hofstra 63-62 on Feb. 22. They won the CAA tournament and will enter the NCAA tournament on a six-game winning streak.

Ohio State (23-10, 13-5) finished third in the Big Ten and was ranked No. 23 in the final Associated Press poll prior to the tournament. JMU was among those receiving votes.

The teams will square off at 1:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill, N.C., with the winner to play Monday against the winner of a matchup between No. 4-seed North Carolina and No. 13 seed Liberty. The 15th-ranked Tar Heels are among 16 teams serving as hosts this season as the women's tournament returns to that format after 12 years with predetermined (but not always neutral) sites.

South Carolina is the No. 1 seed in the Greensboro regional.

The Buckeyes are led by Big Ten Player of the Year Kelsey Mitchell, a freshman point guard from Cincinnati Princeton who leads the nation in scoring at 25.0 points per game. Joining her to form the nation's highest-scoring guard duo is junior Ameryst Alston, who averaged 19.3 points per game and was selected to the All-Big Ten first team for the second season in a row.

The only current Buckeye to have played in an NCAA tournament game is forward Kalpana Beach, but she is one of four Ohio State players sidelined by knee injuries. Freshmen Makayla Waterman and Chelsea Mitchell and sophomore Kianna Holland all suffered torn ACLs during the preseason while Beach underwent an arthroscopic procedure midway through the season after experiencing soreness in her knee that had been reconstructed twice.

"With all the adversity that we went through the beginning of the year, we still always believed in ourselves," Alston said. "At the beginning of the season we were trying to find ourselves, and even now I believe we're still getting better and better."

She and classmate Cait Craft agreed it was gratifying to finally get a tournament invite.

"For our class not making it the last two years, especially last year it really hurt a lot with some of the people that we lost (to graduation), it was really amazing to see our name show up on the screen," Craft said.

Ohio State is 5-0 all-time against JMU, including an 81-66 victory in the 1989 NCAA tournament. The teams last met in 2001 when the Buckeyes beat the Dukes 74-65 en route to winning the NIT.

The two-year tournament drought came after the Buckeyes were part of the dance every year from 2003-12.

For head coach Kevin McGuff, the wait has been even longer. The last time he took a team to the NCAA tournament was 2011, when his final Xavier squad went out in the second round. The previous season McGuff's Musketeers made the Elite Eight.

"I'm just really proud of our players," he said. "They've worked really hard all year and earned this opportunity. Since we went through the adversity at the beginning of the year nobody has used it as a crutch at any point. We just said we still have the players to compete and do the things we want to do."

Ohio State has made 22 NCAA tournament appearances, including the first year for the event in 1982. The Buckeyes made the Final Four in 1993 and have been to the Elite Eight three times with seven Sweet 16 appearances.

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