Ohio State women's basketball: Opener against Irish provides early gauge

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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First impressions matter in life and basketball.

To that end, the Ohio State women’s basketball team is pleased to open its season by playing Notre Dame at 4 p.m. today in Mount Pleasant, S.C., as part of the second Carrier Classic aboard the USS Yorktown.

A year after the Michigan State and North Carolina men’s teams played the first NCAA basketball game aboard an aircraft carrier, the Buckeyes and Fighting Irish will become the first women’s teams to do so. Their game will be followed by the OSU men against Marquette at 7 p.m.

Ohio State senior guard Tayler Hill described the opportunity to play on an aircraft carrier as a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

“It’s a privilege (that) not too many people get to experience,” Hill said.

Notre Dame enters the game with back-to-back, runner-up finishes in the NCAA Tournament and is one of the top five programs in women’s basketball. The Buckeyes have made 10 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament but have not advanced beyond the Sweet 16 in 20 years. So the game serves as a privilege, an opener and an opportunity for the Buckeyes to make a first impression.

Fifth-year senior guard Amber Stokes, a co-captain with Hill, is eager to show the world what she likes best about these Buckeyes.

“I’d have to say the chemistry,” she said. “The ball is moving. People are getting a lot of good looks. Everybody’s shot is looking good. I mean, it’s there. I think we’ve got it.”

Such an early meshing of personalities within the team is a new experience for Hill.

“I feel like this team is not a fake thing,” she said. “We really get along. We genuinely care about each other on and off the floor. It’s probably my first year that I can say that with everybody on the team.”

Hill and Stokes are the anchors for the Buckeyes, along with junior center Ashley Adams.

A tentative lineup shows junior forward Darryce Moore and sophomore guard Raven Ferguson getting the first crack to join the veterans for the opening tip.

But sophomore guard Maleeka Kynard and freshman Ameryst Alston could play quickly if Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw decides to surround junior post Natalie Achonwa with a four-guard set that would include consensus All-American Skylar Diggins at the point.

Hill and Diggins are well-acquainted through multiple encounters on the AAU circuit.

“We started playing each other in ninth grade, I believe,” Hill said. “She’s talented. Her basketball IQ is high. I think that gets her over. She makes smart decisions.”

The Fighting Irish lost three senior starters from last season’s team. The Buckeyes lost Big Ten player of the year Samantha Prahalis to the WNBA and sophomore forward Kalpana Beach in October to a knee injury.

Both teams are going to have a new feel while playing in a unique setting. Chemistry will tell.

“I like this group,” Ohio State coach Jim Foster said. “This group, they’ve done a pretty good job of holding themselves accountable. Again, they’ve all gotten better. There’s a couple that if they start to understand a subtle thing or two about themselves they could take another step and maybe cross that bridge. We could also collectively roll it out and be pretty good.”

jmassie@dispatch.com

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