By the time the ball goes in the air at 7 p.m. (Listen on the radio at WOSU-AM 820 or watch via live stream on BigTenNetwork.com), the Buckeyes will be nearly seven full days removed from their last game against an opponent, and star post player Jantel Lavender said the team used the time off to tweak several aspects of its game, especially when it comes to halfcourt offense.
That came as no surprise to anyone who watched the Buckeyes' last game, a 59-56 home loss to Minnesota, a setback including Ohio State's second-lowest scoring output of the season and a season-low eight assists.
"We just need to get better in our halfcourt sets," she said yesterday. "We're a really good running team but when it comes down to halfcourt basketball, I think we need to get better in that area."
Although the loss was Ohio State's first in Big Ten play this season and snapped an eight-game winning streak, head coach Jim Foster assured reporters the homework during the time off would have been the same even if the outcome against the Golden Gophers had been different.
"We haven't been reversing the ball, and that would have been the emphasis regardless," he said.
He likes what he has seen so far as a squad that starts two seniors but counts Lavender and freshman point guard Samantha Prahalis as its most important players.
"The ball has reversed a lot in the last X-number of days (of practice)," he said. "You tend to forget. You've got a freshman point guard, and though she's the player of the year, you've got a sophomore post player, and as good as they are, they're in the learning phases of this game."
The Buckeyes (14-3, 5-1) also struggled uncharacteristically on the glass against the Golden Gophers, a problem Foster believes will be fixed with a more fluid offense.
"If you want to wrestle, they've got some pretty big bodies," he said. "We'd rather play basketball."
That's especially true against Minnesota because of the way they rebound and box out.
"If our post players aren't moving, it's a lot easier to put a body on them," Foster said. "If they are moving, it's very difficult to put a body on them. So for them to be moving, the ball has to move."
Now enter the struggling Fighting Illini (4-15, 0-8), who have lost nine in a row, including a 67-35 defeat at home at the hands of the Buckeyes on Jan. 12.
Even in that comfortable victory, the Foster was not happy with his team's halfcourt offense against the defensive-minded Illini The Buckeyes were able to score enough points in transition to mask the lack of ball movement when things slowed down.
Lavender, who leads the Big Ten in scoring (21.1 points per game) and rebounding (11.2) sees no potential for the Buckeyes to mail it in against the Illini, who beat them two out of three times last season and still have 2008 All-Big Ten performer Jenna Smith in the post.
"We're definitely not going to overlook anybody, and I don't think we overlooked Illinois or Minnesota," Lavender said. "I just think our offense wasn't flowing. We looked at the Illinois game, and we really didn't play good halfcourt basketball in that game either, so that's what we're going to work on tomorrow, reversing the ball more and becoming a better halfcourt team as games progress."
Foster was not sure yesterday if he would have the services of Shavelle Little, a regular starting guard who missed the Minnesota game with a leg injury. Little, a tenacious defender who averages 2.7 steals per game, did not play against the Gophers.
"She says she feels great and she's felt good for a little bit, so that's a good sign," Foster said.
In her place, sophomore Brittany Johnson started and scored 11 points. That was her second double-digit scoring effort in a row after she had 14 against the Fighting Illini. She has made 6 of 10 three-pointers over the course of the two games.