Women's Cagers Ready To Go

Postseason basketball is not over for Ohio State, but now it will up to the Buckeye women's team to carry the flag. After nearly two weeks off, Ohio State said Friday in Columbus that it's ready to get off and running. Past postseason failures are not on the mind; instead, the team mind-set is on recent strong play and spirited practice sessions.

When Ohio State women's basketball head coach Jim Foster stepped to the microphone Friday afternoon to preview his team's NCAA tournament opening round game today against Sacred Heart, he was asked to make an opening statement by the press conference moderator.

Foster's response was to that situation, but it could have meant so much more.

"I'm just ready to go," he said.

After 13 days off following a March 7 Big Ten tournament title against rival Purdue, it's not a stretch to say that answer had double meaning. After that time off, months of hard work for Ohio State and an even longer time for Foster to listen to questions about his recent teams' lack of postseason success, Saturday afternoon's game in Nationwide Arena can't come quick enough for the Buckeyes.

Foster, whose Buckeyes are the third seed in the Berkeley regional for their best seed in three seasons, would rather not discuss the past few seasons of postseason failures.

Ohio State entered this postseason on a four-game tournament losing streak, having fallen in the Big Ten title game to Purdue in 2007 and the first round of the conference tournament in 2008 as a major upset victim to Illinois. The Buckeyes have lost two straight NCAA tourney games, having been upset by Marist and Florida State.

When asked Friday if his team had anything to prove after those past two seasons, Foster quickly said, "No."

Eventually, he elaborated.

"First of all, you don't dwell on the past," he said. "Secondly, I've been doing this for 31 years and I've seen some terrific coaches go through the same situation. And every team is different. This year's team has nothing to do with last year's team, nothing to do with the year before."

Ohio State's postseason play up to this point backs up his contention. The Buckeyes, the Big Ten regular-season champions for the fifth year in a row, opened the conference tournament in Indianapolis with back-to-back blowout wins against Illinois and Iowa before facing the third-seeded Boilermakers in the final.

Purdue is a dangerous team just reaching full health, but Jantel Lavender's late free throw set the final score in a 67-66 victory that sent the team rushing onto the Conseco Fieldhouse court to celebrate.

The win against Purdue was Ohio State's eighth straight, stretching back to an 85-75 loss at Iowa on Feb. 12. Since that game, the Buckeyes have won their games by an average of 14.5 points. They have been ahead after the first half in seven of the eight games – they were tied in the other – for an average lead at the break of 12.0 points.

"I think once everybody realized how much fun it is to play hard and how fun it is to get steals and be ferocious on defense, I think our team has grown on so many levels," Lavender said.

The challenge will be to keep the good vibes flowing after all of the time off as the Buckeyes get ready to tip off at 2:30 against 14th-seeded Sacred Heart, the champion of the Northeast Conference and a team on a 21-game winning streak.

In between now and the last game, Ohio State has had its fair share of time to dedicate to both academics and basketball. With finals week this past week at OSU, the players could have been focused mostly on academics, but Foster said that a quarter's worth of strong work in the classroom made the team ready to tackle that hurdle with ease.

"If you want the excuse of finals, you have it," he said. "But this team doesn't think that way."

When discussing the team's practice time since then, Foster used descriptions like "spirited" and "fun, in reality" with a bit of a grin, but a check with his players yielded the same answer.

"I would agree with Coach, it has been a lot of fun practicing," senior forward Star Allen said. "It's been hard, but it's fun at the same time. And it is spirited. Everybody's loud and talking."

After the media session the Buckeyes had one final workout before Saturday afternoon's contest, which will be shown on ESPN2. Ohio State's health – a problem in each of the past few seasons – seemed fine, as only Ashlee Trebilcock and Shavelle Little missed small portions while working on an exercise bike to rest their balky knees.

As a result, the Buckeyes hope they're rested and ready but not rusty once their tournament run begins. If so, Foster hopes another change from the past few years will take over.

"There's a different mentality," Foster said of his team. "It's a different group and a different burn. They got a little fire in their belly. Maybe a lot."

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