After barely fending off an inspired effort from the upset-minded Belmont Bruins, the Kentucky Wildcats (22-10) meet the 5th seed in the Lexington Region, the Ohio State Buckeyes (27-6), at 12:05 in Memorial Coliseum in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.
The Buckeyes defeated the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in their opening game. 70-63. After a relatively close first half, OSU opened up a seven-point lead at the break. They extended their advantage to 64-48 with 4:38 remaining in the game. However, WKU refused to wilt and used a 15-5 run to get as close as two possessions before running out of time.
Sophomore guard Asia Doss gave the Scarlett and Grey a lift off the bench. She scored a season-high 15 points and was 3-of-4 from 3-point range. Doss also dished out six assists in 26 minutes of play.
Junior guard and leading scorer Kelsey Mitchell added 15 points, eight below her season average of 23. Mitchell is a prolific scorer and is the fastest player in NCAA history to notch 2,000 points. She is also the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year.
Freshman forward Tori McCoy was the only other Buckeye who scored in double figures. She added 12 points and was 5-of-6 from the floor.
Senior forward Shayla Cooper pulled down 15 rebounds and handed out six assists even though she struggled on offense, scoring 6 points on 3-of-11 shooting.
Former Wildcat Linnae Harper had two points off the bench.
Under head coach Kevin McGuff, the Buckeyes play a frantic pace and score 87 points a game. OSU uses a nine-player rotation, and several of their bench players see over 15 minutes a contest. They shoot 46 percent from the field and 35 percent from beyond the arc, about eight per outing on average.
On the other end of the hardwood, Ohio State excels at using pressure to force turnovers. Opponents are giving the ball up 17 times a game and shoot only 38 percent against them.
Ohio State may not have the balanced scoring load that Belmont brought to the table, but the skill and depth of the Buckeyes are a concern. Kentucky needs to take care of the basketball and play a moderate pace on offense because they appeared to be on weary legs late against Belmont.
Maci Morris did an excellent job shutting down Kylee Smith during the Belmont game, but Kelsey Mitchell's smaller stature lends more credence to Taylor Murray drawing the assignment of shutting her down. Murray is a capable defender with quick hands and is more than adequate to rise to the occasion.
The sophomore point guard will be needed on offense as well. She struggled to score against Belmont, and the Wildcats generally play better with her as the third scoring option due to her consistency in driving to the basket or drawing fouls.