Buckeyes, Bulldogs Set For Round Two - Again

Ohio State and Mississippi State bring back many familiar faces from their second-round NCAA tournament matchup of last season, but both squads were more anxious to highlight the differences as they prepared for tonight's 7:11 tipoff.

On Sunday during a 93-59 victory over St. Francis (Pa.) that opened the NCAA women's basketball tournament, Ohio State was grateful to put the familiar faces - and hands and forearms and hips and whatever other body parts a team could use to gain an advantage, even if outside the rules - of the Big Ten behind them and move on to uncharted waters.

That much was evident as they whipped the ball around the perimeter and in and out of the post with near impunity against a St. Francis (Pa.) squad that was virtually helpless physically and could rely on very little knowledge to make up that disparity.

Alas, the Buckeyes' vacation from familiarity lasted but one game.

Tonight the No. 2 seed in the Dayton Regional takes on No. 7 Mississippi State, the same school that opposed them in the same round last season.

Ohio State used a game-ending 10-0 run to claim victory in that contest, one that was far from easy despite being played in front of a pro-Buckeye crowd at Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus.

This time around, many of the faces are going to be the same when the ball goes in the air at approximately 7:11 p.m. at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh.

Eight of the 10 Buckeyes and six of eight Lady Bulldogs who played in the 2009 contest are back this year, and both teams return four starters apiece.

"I definitely expect for them to come out with a lot of fire and a feeling of getting revenge because I'm pretty sure they feel like they should have won that game because it wasn't won by that many points," she said.

The Buckeyes trailed 58-54 with with 6:43 to go but held the Bulldogs scoreless the rest of the way.

"I think they're going to be really juiced up and wanting to go to the Sweet 16 just because we had this same game last year in the same position, so I'm just expecting them to play extremely hard and we definitely need to match their intensity," Lavender said.

Head coaches Jim Foster of Ohio State and Sharon Fanning-Otis of Mississippi State both downplayed the similarities between the teams from last year to this year, however.

In an interesting twist, both teams have replaced a starting post player with a more perimeter-oriented player, changing the looks of the lineups and the way they play.

Sarah Schulze, a 6-1 junior forward, has replaced second-team All-Big Ten performer Star Allen this season for Ohio State while co-starters Donnisha Tate and Robin Porter have given way to 5-11 Mary Kathryn Govero in Fanning-Otis' lineup.

"It gives us a different look with Sarah stretching the offense and shooting threes," said Foster of a player who has made 53 of 133 three-pointers (39.8 percent) this season.

Govero, who is 64 for 180 (35.6 percent) from long range this season, disputed the suggestion the Lady Bulldogs will be greatly motivated by a desire for revenge.

"We didn't finish the game obviously like we wanted to," Govero said. "We didn't score for a while there at the end. It motivates us knowing that we can play with this team, but their team isn't everybody that it was last year and ours isn't. We're both different teams than who we were last year, so we can't reflect on the past. We just have to focus on who we are as a team and what we want to do and play to our strengths.

"We want to finish the game and play 40 minutes. Last year we didn't play for 40 minutes, so that's why we didn't come out with the win."

Lavender will look to build upon a round-one performance Sunday that saw her grab 16 rebounds and score 23 points. In the process, she broke Katie Smith's school record for points in a single season.

"It was great to get away from the Big Ten," she said of facing 15th-seeded St. Francis. "They were still double-teaming, but they weren't as physical as the Big Ten is. (In the Big Ten) they know to push (me) around, double-team (me), triple-team and everybody is slicing at the ball. It was kind of like they weren't used to us. They hadn't seen us as much as Big Ten teams, and I guess it was a little bit more difficult for them to adjust in such a short period of time.

"Mississippi State does know how we play, and they know what to expect from me as a post player and what to expect from the guards. I think they'll be a little bit more familiar with things we do, so I will have to be in the mindset of the Big Ten a little bit because they know how we play and our style of play."

Despite the loss of Allen, Lavender said she believes Ohio State has a higher caliber of player in the lineup this year. Joining the starting lineup in place of Shavelle Little, a senior coming off the bench this year, is freshman Tayler Hill. While Little is a two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Hill is a five-star recruit who has added an even more athletic presence to the lineup, and the latter player brings more of a scoring threat at the other end.

"We're a much different team from last year," Foster said. "We're a better team because we have better guard play. Jantel is a better player this year than she was last year, and we have players who can stretch the floor and make it more difficult on the other team. I just think we're markedly different.

"I just think this team has a better chance of doing bigger things than maybe last year because we have so many different options. We have five players on the floor who can shoot and are scoring options. It's different in the aspect of athleticism."

They figure to need to put that athleticism to good use against the Bulldog backcourt of Alexis Rack, Tysheka Grimes and Armelie Lumanu.

All three are double-figure scorers this year, and Rack and Grimes both gave the Buckeyes fits last season. Rack had 19 points while Grimes had 22, although an ankle injury suffered by the latter player in the Bulldogs' 68-64 opening-round victory on Sunday has her availability questionable for tonight's game.

"You see the success they have had this year and you see where we are," Fanning-Otis said. "Hopefully we're an improved team. We know that they are in terms of the balance and the success they've had. When you have a starter who is the defensive player of the year and she's coming off the bench, that says something about your depth, I think, relative to their rotations. What we have to do better is execute better down the stretch."

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