Sunday, March 6, 2011

Buckeye Women Maturing Into Champions

Ohio State’s women’s basketball team is arguably as hot as any in the country heading into the NCAA tournament. But, it wasn’t long ago that the Buckeyes were struggling to find wins, and maybe more importantly, struggling to find an identity.

“We are very confident,” said guard Samantha Prahalis, “but we don’t forget where we were a month ago. All we have is each other and I think we realize that now and we play for each other.”

Ohio State won the Big Ten tournament for the third consecutive year by beating second-seed Penn State, 84-70.

It was another step in the team’s transformation.

“I think we’ve come a long way as a team, mentally, toughness-wise, I just think we came together” said senior center Jantel Lavender. “Tonight, in this tournament, we proved that we are a good team and can contend with any team in the country.”

The Buckeyes started conference play five-and-six, including a nine point loss in January to the Lady Lions. Three of the other losses came by double digits.

Exactly a month after their last defeat, the Buckeyes feel like they’ve found themselves. Since falling to Northwestern at home on February 6th, Ohio State has won nine in a row.

Three of the wins came against 11th-ranked Michigan State and they avenged the 80-71 loss in Happy Valley by beating Penn State twice, including in the tournament title game.

“It doesn’t matter what is thrown at us because we dealt with adversity at the beginning of the season,” said Lavender.

“That made us a lot tougher. It’s shown in these last nine games that we are a good team...There’s just a lot of things we’ve overcome as a team and I’m just excited we can get through those things and play still.”

Coach Jim Foster thinks that resiliency is a sign of his team’s evolving maturity.

“We are who we are,” he said. “We are a bi-product of our experiences, and we’ve had a lot of them. We grew up a lot.”

Ohio State’s success in the Big Ten tournament the last two seasons hasn’t necessarily translated to long runs in the NCAA tournament.

The Buckeyes were bounced from the dance in the second round last season and in the Sweet 16 two years ago.

But, Foster thinks the team that cut down the nets, Sunday, at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, is the poised to make their deepest run yet.

“Walking into this tournament I thought we were really playing well. I thought we were focused. I thought we were together,” he said. “This was the best team of the last three. I think how we won this [tournament] is a reflection of that.”

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