The Kevin McGuff era at Ohio State started with a 70-61 victory over West Virginia in Morgantown, W. Va. on Nov. 8, 2013. More than two years later, the stakes are higher and teams are different as the Buckeyes and Mountaineers get set to battle for a shot at the Sweet 16.
Ohio State has never lost to West Virginia, posting a perfect 12-0 record against the Mountaineers in school history while McGuff has a 2-1 record against WVU, losing his first matchup in the 2007 NCAA Tournament as the head coach of Xavier.
The most recent matchup between the two schools came last season, when Ohio State blew the doors off of West Virginia, 96-54. However, the Mountaineers are a different team than they were in December of 2014.
Of the Mountaineers that played in the loss to Ohio State last season, only three remain on this year’s squad, including West Virginia’s leading scorer senior guard Bria Holmes who is confident Sunday’s matchup will be closer than last season’s blowout.
“We have to lock in and play defense,” Holmes said. “This year we have a whole different team, so I feel like it’ll be a whole different game and a different pace to the game. We have to come out ready to play, ready to defend and execute our offense.”
In her two career games against the Buckeyes, Holmes has scored a combined 29 points, but led her team with 26 in a 74-65 win over Princeton in the first round of the tournament on Friday in Columbus.
Having faced Holmes twice already as the Buckeye head coach, McGuff said Ohio State is in for a challenge when the two teams tip off on Sunday at noon at St. John Arena.
“She is a great player. She is really talented. I think she has a very bright future ahead of her when she leaves West Virginia,” McGuff said. “She can get to the basket, so you have to try and keep her in front of you and make her shoot over you, but that is easier said than done. You also have to guard her closely enough on the perimeter so she doesn’t get rhythm three’s which allows her to put the ball on the floor and drive.”
While Ohio State will have to worry about the scoring off Holmes, the Buckeyes will also be tasked with trying to keep up with the Mountaineers on the boards, something the Scarlet and Gray have struggled to do all season.
Ohio State was outrebounded in Friday’s 88-69 win over Buffalo 47-45, and the Mountaineers plan to use their size to their advantage. The Buckeyes tallest active player is staring sophomore forward Alexa Hart who stands a slender 6-foot-3 inches tall, while West Virginia’s starting center Lennay Montgomery stands 6-foot-5 and said she knows her play could make the difference in Sunday’s game.
“They don’t have that much size, but the size that they do have, they play a solid game of basketball,” Montgomery said. “A lot will be up to me tomorrow. I will be a big factor in the game, so I just have to do the things I need to do to help my team win.”
While Ohio State lacks depth in the backcourt, the Buckeyes have had the luxury recently of rotating three players to help Hart in the painted area.
Sophomore Makalaya Waterman has received increased minutes with the injury to senior guard Ameryst Alston and said she is feeling more comfortable in her role. Against the Bulls, Waterman played 24 minutes, almost double her season average and scored six points, grabbed eight rebounds and swatted two shots.
“I think within my team I am comfortable. I think my teammates really help me feel comfortable, and my coaches,” Waterman said. “They are always encouraging me, they have more confidence in me than I do in myself, which helps a lot.”
Junior Shayla Cooper, who played most of the season off the bench, but got the start with Alston out and put up 17 points while Kalpana Beach played nine minutes and scored six points.
Alston, who missed her first college game of her career in the win over Buffalo could be ready to go against West Virginia according to McGuff, but the Buckeyes are remaining cautious with her recovery from a right wrist sprain.
Even if Alston can’t go, West Virginia will be tasked with the challenge of slowing down Kelsey Mitchell who scored 39 against the Mountaineers in last season’s matchup.
Mitchell and the Buckeyes like to play fast, getting up and down the court as fast as possible something Mitchell said Ohio State is focusing on more than the size of West Virginia.
“When we go into practice, you have to be very in detail and very focused,” Mitchell said. “It’s March. You always have to focus on yourself and the dynamic of the team. I am more focused about us and worried about us than our opponent. We have to be more in detail and more focused on what we have to do as a team and as a unit.”
The Buckeyes and Mountaineers are set to tip at noon from St. John Arena in Columbus.