Buckeyes Make Their Point At Point

Over the past three seasons, the Ohio State women's basketball team has welcomed in three players to play the point guard position. On Saturday, Samantha Prahalis, Shavelle Little and Maria Moeller played their current roles to near perfection as the Buckeyes won their first NCAA tournament game since all arrived.

As things looked to be on the verge of falling apart early in the second half for the Ohio State women's basketball team Saturday afternoon, one shot by Maria Moeller encapsulated the team's woes.

With the third-seeded Buckeyes on the wrong end of a 12-4 run that cut their lead to four over 14th-seeded Sacred Heart in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Moeller attempted a three-pointer over the backboard from the right corner that missed everything. Later, head coach Jim Foster said it was a shot inspired by the game "H-O-R-S-E."

Seconds later, Sacred Heart made a basket that cut the Buckeye lead to just two and hushed the Nationwide Arena crowd.

That was about the last thing that went wrong for Moeller on the day. The junior buried three crucial three-pointers the rest of the way as Ohio State pulled away to a 77-63 win against the Pioneers. With a career-high 12 points, Moeller helped paved the way for her first-ever win in the NCAA tournament and the Buckeyes snapped their two-year streak of falling to upsets in the first round.

Add in a career-high 23 points from starter Samantha Prahalis and another workmanlike defensive performance from Shavelle Little, and the crew of Buckeye point guards from past and present helped pace the victory that advanced Ohio State to a second-round game tomorrow night with 11th-seeded Mississippi State.

"It's just about knowing your role on the team," Moeller said about the comfort the trio has with one another. "I know my role is to come in off of the bench, either play point guard or shooting guard and just knock down shots, take care of the ball and get my teammates involved. I have to contribute to the team the best way I can."

Moeller and Little each entered in 2006 as players at the "1," and Moeller quickly became the starter while Little eased her way into a role as a defensive stalwart. A year alter, the starting and backup jobs were reversed.

Both were pushed into different roles this season as Prahalis, a five-star recruit, entered the fray, but all did their part as the Buckeyes finally achieved NCAA success.

Moeller's best contribution was to use her marksmanship to help end Sacred Heart's 21-game winning streak. She drilled a trey on a feed from Star Allen on her first shot after the airballed three to extend a five-point OSU lead to eight moments after the Pioneers got within two.

"I tried to forget about it, but it's hard to forget about it," she said of the airball. "After I knocked down the next one, I felt a little bit more confident."

Confidence has been fragile for the Maria Stein, Ohio, native as her shot has come and gone over the years. During her first campaign, Moeller struggled to a shooting percentage of 34.3. After putting her field-goal and three-point percentages at or above 50.0 percent last year, she was down to 31.5 percent from the floor and 38.7 from beyond the arc this year.

She didn't hesitate to go bombs away, though, against the Pioneers, a fact that might have been spurred on by some recent work in the gym.

"Maria Moeller is a very good shooter who mechanically had an issue or two," Foster said. "What I like is that she got in the gym the last three weeks. Every time I would walk in the gym for the start of practice, no matter how early I walked in, Maria was there with a manager or an assistant coach shooting."

It sure looked like Moeller had practiced quite a bit when she later threw two daggers at the Pioneers. The first, a calm stroke from the right corner, increased Ohio State's advantage to 61-50; the latter was another perfect shot from her preferred left side that gave the Buckeyes a 68-52 lead at the end of a 22-8 run that sealed the game.

"I just took my time and was just hoping they'd go in," she said. "Of course it feels good to knock down some shots."

Prahalis' role could be condensed down to the word "everything." In the first half, she paced the Buckeye attack with 14 points, two assists and two steals. During the second stanza, the freshman from Commack, N.Y., showed off her whole game, dishing off five assists against just one turnover while adding nine more points.

A number of moments were uniquely Prahalis. Her flair for passing was shown with a couple of no-look feeds and one on-the-money baseball pass that led to a transition layup by center Jantel Lavender, and her toughness wasn't questioned when she rebounded from a cramp that left her screaming in pain to make two free throws seconds later.

"It was a lot of fun being out there," she said. "Definitely (postseason play suits my intensity level). I like it because this game means so much. We've been practicing for this game all year."

The Buckeye point guards also brought the defense when necessary. Little has earned quite the reputation as the two-time defending Big Ten defensive player of the year, and she put her body on the line for her lone steal. She dove in for a ball seconds after Prahalis scored the first Buckeye bucket of the second half, and then in a scrum she found Prahalis in transition before the freshman was fouled.

In the pile, Little appeared to wrench her knee as well as take a blow to her face that she said would require a trip to the dentist after the game.

Another big steal later earned by Ohio State showed the point guards' importance. Moeller picked the pocket of Sacred Heart's Alisa Apo, then fed it ahead to Prahalis for a quick pass to Ashlee Trebilcock for a layup that gave the Buckeyes a 15-point lead at 65-50.

"Everyone can make shots, but to do the things you have to do as far as getting steals, those are the moments where you're like, ‘We're feeling this,'" Little said. "Stealing the ball is not the easiest thing to do."

Though the addition of the fiery Prahalis has reduced playing time for some and changed roles for others, Saturday's game showed the benefit for all when the entire plan is working.

"We're sisters," Little said of the team before narrowing her focus to the point-guard rotation. "I'm fine with the role that I have. I love what (Foster) has done with that."

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