COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio State women barely broke a sweat in dispatching No. 14 seed George Washington by 42 points in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The road to a third consecutive Sweet 16 berth for the Buckeyes promises to get more difficult when they play high-scoring Central Michigan on Monday night.
No. 3 Ohio State flattened George Washington 87-45 on Saturday in a game that was never a contest. No. 11 Central Michigan got its first ever tournament win, upsetting Louisiana State 78-69 to advance. With five starters averaging in double figures, the Mid-American Conference Tournament champions will make the Buckeyes work harder. The teams meet at 6:30 p.m. on Monday in Ohio State's venerable St. John Arena.
The Buckeyes are loaded and are playing their best basketball of the season after winning the Big Ten and roaring through the conference tournament. They have won 12 of their last 13 games and eight straight since a three-game losing skid in mid-January.
All-American guard Kelsey Mitchell is one of the best players in the nation. The senior who averages 24.5 points per game and shoots 3s with a 40-percent success rate is hungry to get deeper into the tournament as her storied career winds down.
Senior Stephanie Mavunga, all 6-foot-3 of her, destroyed the Colonials with 22 points and 13 rebounds on Saturday. She's averaging 16.5 points and 10.8 boards this season. Senior guard Linnae Harper averages 14.6 points and 8.5 rebounds.
"Once Kelsey Mitchell gets going, she gets going," Central Michigan coach Sue Guevara said Sunday. "But you have Stephanie Mavunga and Alexa Hart going and you have (Asia) Doss come in, they're just a high-octane basketball team. It's going to be a matter of controlling pace."
With the core of the Buckeyes being seniors, there is a palatable sense of urgency in their mission to get past the Sweet 16. Last year they were blown out of the tournament by No. 1 seed Notre Dame.
"Survive and advance," Mitchell said. "You don't want a Cinderella story. You see so many people go down on the men's side and girl's side so far, so at the end of the day it's all about winning. You shift your mind from not being so much about statistics or what people say, it's solely about your team, your program, who plays the best for 40 minutes."
Guevara said the Chippewas, making just their fourth tournament appearance, are not star struck.
"The moment is not too big for the players," she said. "I had read some stuff that it's a dream to get in the tournament and that's nice. But understand the players have earned the right to get in the tournament and we didn't want to one-step in and one-step out. We wanted to dance a little bit more and that's what we've done. What I like about this team is it's always just back to business, back to work."