Deja Vu All Over Again For OSU Women

Could the OSU women's basketball team be seeing a repeat of history about to happen? The similarities between this year's team and the 1993 national runner-up team are there, and it might be time for those who haven't taken notice to jump on board and enjoy the ride.

It was March 7th, 1993. A late Ohio State 8-0 spurt in the game's final four minutes catapulted the Buckeye women's basketball team to a 72-60 victory over Vivian Stringer's Iowa Hawkeyes to move to 16-2 in the Big Ten, and capture an outright Big Ten Championship.

A jam-packed crowd of 13,276 people stood up to the rafters of St. John Arena cheered to a deafening roar as they watched an Ohio State team led by freshman sensation Katie Smith start a magical run to the national title game before being upended by Texas Tech in the championship.

After Ohio State's 78-46 victory over Indiana on Sunday before a season-high 10,434 people -- the seventh largest in the history of Value City Arena -- could history be repeating itself?

Ohio State (22-2, 9-1 Big Ten), now sits atop the Big Ten Conference standings all by their lonesome after Penn State dropped a 50-44 decision to the Purdue Boilermakers, leaving flashes of nostalgia dancing through Buckeye fans' heads.

The stage is setting itself perfectly for a repeat of the 1993 run to the Final Four, both statistically and circumstantially.

OSU, who is ranked second nationally in the Associated Press poll, and third in the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll, has won 11-straight games, including a perfect 10-0 in the month of January.

In fact, the Buckeyes, who are a perfect 14-0 at home this season, may have ironically set themselves up for a mirror of 1993 by beating Stringer's Rutgers team on January 16th, 52-50.

A crowd of 10,000 witnessed the ESPN nationally televised game at Value City Arena, which was one of the better crowds to see an Ohio State women's game since Stringer was bringing the Hawkeyes into St. John Arena in the glory days of Smith's illustrious career as a Buckeye.

Thursday is the first of three remaining home games for the Buckeyes as they hope to finish off a perfect 17-0 season at home, which will culminate in the season finale against Penn State on February 27th -- a game that could decide the Big Ten championship in front of a capacity crowd at the Schottenstein Center, reminiscent of that 1993 showdown against Iowa.

Ohio State will take the court against rival Michigan at 6:00 PM Thursday evening in front of what Ohio State is expecting to be their third straight crowd of over 10,000 people -- a good possibility that people are beginning to take note.

The stretch run will bring out all of the heavy hitters in the Big Ten for Ohio State. After hosting Michigan, the Buckeyes will head to Iowa City to play Iowa (15-6, 4-6) on Sunday.

Then, Ohio State closes the season out against the next four teams in the conference standings behind them, starting February 17th with a home game against Minnesota (18-4, 8-2), then February 20th at Michigan State (20-3, 9-2), February 24th at Purdue (13-9, 6-5), and finishing the season at home against Penn State (14-8, 9-2) on the 27th.

Aside from having a couple of the top players in the country, including 6-5 center Jessica Davenport, who was recently named the WBCA National Player of the Month, the Buckeyes have won with hounding defense.

Only five times this season has Ohio State given up 60 or more points, and they have yet to give up 70 or more in a game. Only Penn State (scored 69 on Ohio State in a 69-61 win over OSU), Wisconsin (scored 67 in a Buckeye win), Notre Dame (66 in a victory over OSU in the preseason NIT final), Nebraska (61 in an Ohio State win), and UCLA (60 points in an Ohio State win), have eclipsed the 60-point barrier.

Leading the Big Ten and the entire country in scoring defense (51.5 points per game), Ohio State also leads the Big Ten in scoring at 74.8 points a game.

In addition to the lopsided scoring margin, the Buckeyes also lead the Big Ten in field goal percentage (51.5% from the field), 3-point field goal percentage (42.4% from 3-point range), assists (18.67 per game), turnover margin (+3.67 a game), and are second in the conference in free throw shooting (77.6%).

Aside from the striking similarities in record, national ranking, and the upcoming schedule, there are other stunning resemblances to 1993.

In personnel and talent, this team is a lot like Nancy Darsch's 1993 squad, although much better defensively. However, this team has something even that team didn't have -- a dominant post player.

Through 24 games, Davenport is third in the Big Ten in scoring at 18.6 points per game. She is also grabbing 8.6 rebounds a game, which is good for fourth in the conference, and she's third in field goal percentage, shooting 59% from the field.

Think back to 1993 and compare her with 6-2 power forward Nikki Keyton, who averaged 14.9 points and 6.0 rebounds a game, while shooting 55.9% from the field.

Keyton was named to the 1993 NCAA all-tournament team, along with Katie Smith for averaging 16 points a game throughout the tournament.

Then, there's Caity Matter.

Although it would be tough to make a case for Matter being as good as Smith was in 1993, considering she was just a freshman when she averaged 18.1 points a game in 1993, Matter certainly reminds many of Smith with a terrific outside shot and tremendous leadership ability.

This season, Matter surpassed Smith as Ohio State's all-time leader in 3-point goals made in a career. Smith's old record of 218 career 3-pointers has now been broken by Matter, who is averaging 14.0 points a game and shooting 46.8% from 3-point range-good for 10th in the country. As a comparison, Smith shot 45% from behind the arc in 1993.

The Final Four team was led by a terrific point guard in 5-5 Audrey Burcy, who averaged 11.2 points a game and dished out 4.0 assists per game. Burcy also was a terrific defender, much as her backcourt counterpart, 5-9 Averrill Roberts, was.

Roberts contributed 15.4 points per game, second on the team in between Smith and Keyton.

Perhaps this year's version of Burcy and Roberts, might be 5-5 point guard Kim Wilburn, who is dishing out 3.21 assists per game and is third in the league in steals with 2.5 a game while coming off the bench for Ashley Allen, and 5-10 sophomore guard Brandie Hoskins.

While Allen technically starts, the pair split almost identical minutes, each getting around 20 minutes a game, and still ranking amongst the league's assist leaders.

Hoskins, meanwhile, is adding 12.3 points a game to the lineup, while shooting 59.4% from the field, which is second in the Big Ten. The Dayton product also is 10th in the league in assists (3.5 a game) and is one of the league's absolute best guards with the ball in her hands at creating a shot.

Each lineup is, and was, rounded out by a solid forward adding toughness to the roster.

In 1993, that void was filled by 6-1 forward Stacie Howard, who averaged 7.6 points per game, but was a vital cog defensively. Flash forward 11 years later, and Michelle Munoz is now the 6-1 forward averaging 5.2 points per game, and shooting 50 percent from the field.

As that incredible Buckeye team 11 years ago finished 28-4 overall and 16-2 in the conference, they cleaned the slate with a perfect 16-0 season in the friendly confines of St. John Arena -- a feat this Ohio State team hopes to accomplish in the Value City Arena.

The home win against Iowa was as memorable a game as there's ever been in Ohio State's 40 years of women's basketball. The loud standing ovations, non-stop screaming, and the distant sounds of the OSU pep band blasting "Hang On Sloopy" through the applause of 13,000 fans became secondary moments just weeks later.

Ohio State gave fans an encore less then three weeks after that gigantic home win, with a 73-72 overtime victory over the Hawkeyes in the Final Four. Smith led the Buckeyes with 22 points, while Roberts grabbed an NCAA Final Four record, eight steals.

The run, however, finished just one step short when they ran into a Texas Tech buzz saw, most notably, Sheryl Swoops.

While finishing as the tournament's most valuable player, Swoops averaged 35.4 points per game in five games while cementing herself as perhaps the greatest postseason performer in women's history by scoring an NCAA-record 47 points against the Buckeyes in the National Championship.

In the Red Raiders' 84-82 win, Swoops made 16 field goals and finished 11-of-11 from the free throw line in her historic performance.

To this day, fans are still haunted by the memory of Swoops torching zone defenses, box-and-one defenses, man-up, double-teams -- whatever it took to stop her didn't stop her at all.

But now, under the guidance of Jim Foster, a bunch of new memories are being made, ones that could even over-shadow that great team.

This team has aspirations of winning the Big Ten title, and even more, winning the prestigious National Title -- which escaped them 11 years prior.

As fans could take part in a possible remaking of history, it also has a chance to become a part of history.

Should Ohio State be playing for a Big Ten championship against Penn State later this month, a sellout of that season finale would do more than just support their team and spark memories of their last Big Ten title -- it could make history.

The recent increase of people going through the turnstiles at Value City Arena is a testament to the buzz beginning to form in Columbus with this team, and may very well end with a record-breaking crowd.

Currently, the Big Ten record in attendance for a single women's basketball game is 17,142 people, which was set on January 20th, 2002, in Minnesota for its game against Wisconsin.

Aside from getting the opportunity to potentially watch Ohio State win the Big Ten, selling the game out would put over 19,000 people in the house and shatter the single-game attendance record.

Could February 27th, 2004 be déjà vu all over again for those who were there on March 7th, 1993? No one knows for sure.

But, this team might have the makings of something special, and it's got to start somewhere. Thursday against Michigan might be a good start.

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