Andrew Erickson The Columbus Dispatch
With four games left in the regular season and just a day to prepare for a Tuesday game at Illinois, Kevin McGuff had neither the time nor the mindset Monday to reflect on the first three-plus months of the 2017-18 season.
“I feel like we need a good practice today and get prepared for Illinois,” the Ohio State women’s basketball coach said when asked whether his team has met his expectations. “I don’t really put a lot of thought into that stuff. It’s like, ‘Hey, what do we have to do today to get ready for the next game?’ That’s about it.”
He chose not to place an 84-65 loss at South Florida on Sunday in the broader context of an up-and-down 2017-18 season, but he has noticed trends from Ohio State’s rougher performances during what has been an up-and-down past two months.
When the No. 16 Buckeyes (20-6, 9-3 Big Ten) play tenacious defense to begin a game, a sound offense tends to follow, and vice-versa. When they give an opponent the chance to heat up, as they did USF’s Kitija Laksa on Sunday, the result hasn’t been pretty.
Ohio State’s toughest nights in the past month have been struggles from the opening tip. In each of their past three losses — Feb. 11 at USF, Jan. 25 at Iowa and Jan. 22 at Maryland — the Buckeyes faced a double-digit deficit in the first quarter.
In Ohio State losses, poor defense and poor rebounding tend to go hand in hand. The Buckeyes have lost the rebounding battle by 13 or more in five of their six defeats this season, including a 46-26 pounding at the hands of USF on Sunday.
“You’ll see us over-helping, which means we’re not blocking out,” McGuff said. “So when we’re bad defensively, we’re usually bad (on the glass) as well because it usually means we’re not matched up with the right people.”
Sunday‘s clunker is perhaps more puzzling because it came in the immediate aftermath of the first time in McGuff‘s tenure at Ohio State that the Buckeyes had held four straight conference opponents under 70 points.
It‘s sometimes hard to explain why good defense is present in certain stretches but not in others, McGuff said, but a key is making sure that opponents don‘t find a rhythm in the opening minutes.
In that sense, Illinois, which hasn‘t won since Dec. 16, might be the remedy the Buckeyes are seeking after a tough loss.
“It’s surprising, and it hurts,” guard Linnae Harper said of the USF game. “We don’t like to lose, but we just try to take every game one step at a time and hope for the best.”