OSU Looking To Make Name Against Stanford

And now for something completely different: The Ohio State women's basketball team as underdog. While the third-seeded Buckeyes have mostly beaten up on their Big Ten conference foes in recent years, they have generally played the role of bully. Such will not be the case Saturday night against No. 2 Stanford in the Cardinal's backyard.

Even a spate of postseason losses the previous three seasons, both in the Big Ten tournament and on the national level, have all come against teams with worse seeds than the Buckeyes, so the Saturday matchup with Stanford at approximately 11:30 p.m. EST is a fairly new experience, but that's fine with Jantel Lavender.

"I like being and underdog, actually, because when the underdogs win, it's just like ‘Oh my gosh, it's a big upset!' " said Ohio State's sophomore star. "We haven't proven anything yet, so we have to come out and prove some things to some people."

Her head coach seemed to take a different view of the issue, however, as Jim Foster often is fond of doing.

"I think she's looking at the historical significance of it," the 60-year-old Foster said. "In her frame of reference, Stanford has been in the Final Four. They're a good team. I don't think kids today think much past that."

There is no denying the Cardinal (31-4) will enter the contest at Haas Pavillion in Berkeley, Calif., with the higher national profile. Head coach Tara VanDerveer's team finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press, seven spots ahead of Ohio State (29-5).

And while the Buckeyes have had only spotty NCAA tournament success, Stanford has thrived for two decades.

The Cardinal were national runners-up last season when they made the Final Four for the seventh time, and the squad looks primed to make a push for No. 8.

Five players have averaged 9.8 points or more per game to this point, a quintet topped by center Jayne Appel, a junior averages 14.7 points per game and 9.0 rebounds, both highs on the team. Kayla Pedersen adds 11.1 points per game along with her in the post.

That 6-4 pair and Lavender all share something aside from their listed height, too. "I know Jayne Appel and I know Kayla Pedersen personally and it should be exciting," Ohio State's center said. "I played with them at USA Basketball two years in a row, and it should be fun.

"They are extremely powerful post players."

Foster, who also works extensively with USA Basketball, said he could see an advantage for Lavender in quickness and athleticism.

"They run very hard because that's a principle of Tara's philosophy, and they're very strong and very efficient," he said. "They're not as athletic as Jantel. Jantel can create some shots with her athleticism. Their offense creates a lot of their shots with their skill set and how they are drilled."

That offense is the triangle, and it also includes Jeanette Pohlen (11.1 points per game, team-high 132 assists), Nnemkadi Ogwumike (10.5 ppg) and Jillian Harmon (9.8 ppg.) among its top scorers.

Although Ohio State and Stanford have played only once before – a 74-47 OSU victory in Columbus in 1984 – there is plenty of familiarity between the programs.

For starters, the Ohio State head coach in that first meeting was none other than VanDerveer, whom Foster identified as a good friend.

She led the Buckeye program for to a 110-37 record in five seasons beginning in 1980. In her second season, VanDerveer led Ohio State to an appearance in the very first NCAA women's basketball tournament in 1982, and the Buckeyes won or tied each of the first three Big Ten women's basketball titles ever awarded.

She left for Stanford prior to the 1985-86 season and has since enjoyed great success, including NCAA championships in 1990 and '92. The Cardinal is in the tournament for the 23rd consecutive year.

"I have a great deal of respect for her on and off the court," Foster said, acknowledging the work she did to lay the groundwork for an Ohio State program making its 18th NCAA tournament appearance.

For all those trips to the Big Dance, though, the Buckeyes have made just one Final Four, a 1993 tournament run that ended with a loss in the national championship game.

With Michigan State having knocked out Duke, the top-seed in the region, however, the path could be cleared for another run this year if the Buckeyes can overcome the Cardinal in their backyard.

Based on seedings and rankings, the Buckeyes' next opponent will be their highest hurdle in a run to the Final Four in St. Louis. The ninth-seeded Spartans battle No. 4 Iowa State in the first game in Berkeley on Saturday night with the winner of that one to take on the winner of the OSU-Stanford game Monday night.

"I think seeing that Michigan State came out and showed that the Big Ten is a good conference makes us want to even play harder because we know that we are the best team in the Big Ten this year, so we have to come out and play extremely hard against Stanford and just show that the Big Ten is here and is present," Lavender said.

"We don't have anything to lose, really. We just have to come out and show that we can play on the level of these other teams that have been nationally known for a while.

"We want to win for Ohio State. We want to put our name on the map so people know who we are."

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