With new faces, Ohio State looks to go deeper in postseason
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Even with one of the nation's best players on the floor, Ohio State was taken down in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament last season because the Buckeyes couldn't compete in the paint with Tennessee's towering rebounders.
This season, not only do the Buckeyes have All-American Kelsey Mitchell returning to anchor the lineup, they've got some new bigs - namely 6-foot-3 North Carolina transfer Stephanie Mavunga and 6-foot-4 freshman Tori McCoy, a five-star recruit and McDonald's All-American.
Coach Kevin McGuff hopes they are among the missing pieces that will get No. 7 Ohio State deeper into the postseason.
''The chemistry is very good, the work ethic has been excellent,'' McGuff said. ''It's really nice to have the amount of players we have out there, and right now if we stay healthy - knock on wood - looks like we could have a deep team.''
Besides Mitchell, a 5-foot-8 junior guard who averaged 26 points a game last year, Ohio State returns two other starters, forward Alexa Hart (10.8 points per game, 7.8 rebounds) and guard Asia Doss (7 points, 2 rebounds). Shayla Cooper, a 6-foot-2 forward (13.3 points, 8.1 rebounds) and the team's lone senior, also provides experience inside. Mitchell's twin sister, Chelsea, also returns as a bit player; their father, Mark, is an Ohio State assistant coach.
Lost were Ohio State's second-leading scorer last year, guard Ameryst Alston (18.3, 3.4), now a rookie with the WNBA's New York Liberty, as well as guard Cait Craft, a defensive stalwart and team leader.
The Buckeyes open the season Nov. 11 against Duquesne.
LOTS OF NEW FACES
Adding to Ohio State's depth are three transfers, who all sat out last year, and three freshmen who collected buckets of prep accolades.
Mavunga transferred from North Carolina, where she averaged 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game and earned All-ACC honors as a sophomore. She'll likely slot in at center.
Guard Sierra Calhoun came from Duke and is expected to contribute immediately. Linnae Harper, a 5-foot-8 guard, transferred from Kentucky, where she was the only player under 6 feet among the top 10 rebounders in the Southeastern Conference in 2014-15.
The three freshmen are five-star recruits that include guard Jensen Caretti, who was Ohio's Miss Basketball; guard and Chicago native Kiara Lewis, who was the Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year last season; and McCoy, who was ranked in the top 10 of the 2016 class. McGuff said all will see important minutes this season.
''Practice is very good for us because we're very competitive,'' Harper said. ''With all of the talent from point guard to post, I think we're going to have a full team this year, a lethal weapon.''
Mitchell said all the newcomers are meshing well - and they all like to run.
''Everybody who talks about Ohio State talks about how fast we play,'' Mitchell said. ''All the people we brought onboard with us and the people who are on our bench are also players who love to get up and down the floor.''
MITCHELL URGED TO LEAD
McGuff said Mitchell is the best player he's ever coached - but she says she's not a natural leader. With the loss of Craft to graduation, McGuff is pushing Mitchell to step into that role, even getting her to take a leadership course at OSU.
''On the court, I think I've become vocal with my teammates and helping them, leading by example and giving constructive criticism,'' Mitchell said. ''I'm not one of those people that like to tell people what to do, but coach McGuff has put me in that role.''
McGuff said he can see the difference already.
''She's talking more, she's more engaged,'' he said. ''She's obviously a great kid and one of the hardest workers I've ever been around. And she's a fierce competitor, but she's also got a good feel for the game and you see her sharing that more with her teammates.''
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