By the time the ball goes in the air tonight for the opening tip, the Buckeyes will have had five days of practice to ponder their first defeat of the season.
OSU head coach Jim Foster said his team responded with a productive week of practice following the 67-58 home setback at the hands of then-No. 24 Auburn last Sunday, and his team will not have any time to waste in proving him right as the young Buckeyes (5-1) travel east to College Park to take on Maryland tonight in a game that will be broadcast at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.
Already 9-0 on the season, the Terrapins are ranked No. 3 in the country and boast a lineup that includes four starters from the squad that won the 2006 National Championship.
The names of three of those veterans – juniors Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver and senior Crystal Langhorne –appear on the preseason watch list for the Wade Trophy, an honor that goes to the nation's best player.
Meanwhile, nine of the 13 Buckeyes who figure to suit up for action at the Comcast Center – including starters Shavelle Little and Jantel Lavender – were still in high school at the time the Terrapins were hoisting their championship trophy almost 20 months ago.
The challenge is a daunting one by most measures, but Foster is just glad it will take place before the calendar flips even to December, let alone 2008.
"Don't lose sight of the fact it's Nov. 30," he said Thursday. "A lot of people don't understand sometimes you're a work in progress. Where are you Nov. 30 to where you'd like to be at the end of the season? That's what I think this game is. It's really a measuring tool about where we are relative to where we'd like to be."
"We've had a couple of really good days of practice," Foster said. "The freshmen, the light bulb went on for them as they watched (film of) a little more quickness and a little more of what is necessary."
Sunday at St. John Arena, the athletic Tigers were able to get their fair share of easy baskets with quick moves into the lane and fast-break layups while building a lead of as many as 16 in the first 15 minutes.
They shot 50 percent from the field in the first half before the Buckeyes made corrections in how they switched defensively and turned up the intensity.
Despite holding Auburn to just 28.6 percent shooting (8 of 28) in the second half, Ohio State could not overcome the early deficit or their own poor shooting (25 of 58, or 43.1 percent, for the game) to pull out the victory.
They came out of the experience far from discouraged.
"We knew things were going bad but we didn't play terrible," said senior guard Marscilla Packer, a member of the Wade watch list herself who made just 3 of 15 shots against the Tigers, including 0 of 7 three-pointer.
"There are things we can learn from the film that we need to change and I think we made adjustments this weeks," she said.
That included boxing out and hustling on every trip down the floor.
"There are just things we do every day in practice that we didn't carry over into the game and I think with that loss being to an SEC team that was quick on defense and things like that kind of prepared us for Maryland," Packer said.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the now 19th-ranked Buckeyes tonight will be controlling Toliver, the Terp point guard.
She will enter the contest with team-best averages of 19.4 points and 7.8 assists per game.
"Tolliver right now is playing as well as any guard I've seen in years at the point," Foster said. "She's just confident and a great shooter. It all starts with her."
The challenge of stopping her will fall primarily to Little, a sophomore in her first year starting at the point for Foster.
A defensive specialist who had four steals against Auburn, she is looking forward to the challenge. "It's about me going out and playing against a great player and showing that I can stop her," Little said. "It's just a matter of me being disciplined."
The experience and familiarity of the members of the Terp lineup has helped them fly out of the gate, a pace the Buckeyes are just hoping to reach by the start of Big Ten season Dec. 30 at Michigan State.
Prior to that Ohio State still has home dates with major-conference foes Mississippi (1 p.m. Sunday at home at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus), Washington (Dec. 16 in Seattle) and Nebraska (Dec. 22 back at home). The Buckeyes also have a date with home Youngstown State Dec. 22.
Little said the prospect of playing such formidable competition before the Big Ten season starts excites her.
"That's what makes it more fun," she said. "It makes you want to work even harder every fall and every spring because you know that you're going to have a chance to go against these good teams, where you're going to be in the spotlight and have a chance to show your talent."
Ole Miss (3-2) advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament last season, though the Rebels return just two starters from that team and have already suffered two decisive losses to major conference teams: 80-59 at Nebraska and 74-57 to Wisconsin.
The Big Ten enters Friday night trailing 2-4 in the inaugural Big Ten-ACC Women's Basketball Challenge. Michigan gave the Big Ten a 1-0 lead by beating Miami (Fla.) 65-50 Nov. 19, but Wake Forest beat Northwestern 60-45 and Georgia Tech beat Iowa 76-57 on Wednesday.
The event comes to an end Sunday when Virginia Tech travels to Penn State.