COLUMBUS, Ohio — The No. 4 seed Buckeyes (22-9) wrapped up their final preparations for Saturday’s NCAA first-round matchup with No. 13 seed UCF (22-10) Friday at St. John Arena. Players and coaches arrived around 1:45 p.m., took care of their media obligations, watched film then held a light 90-minute practice session before calling it a day.
The Buckeyes will take on the Knights around 1:50 p.m. tomorrow at St. John Arena, 30 minutes after the first game between No. 12 seed Bowling Green and No. 5 seed Georgia Tech, which is scheduled to tip at 11:20 a.m.
Click the video player above to watch press conference highlights and view photos from the days activities.
Center Jantel Lavender and Ohio State have accomplished nearly everything imaginable within the Big Ten over the past four seasons. Success beyond the conference tournament has been a bit harder to come by.
Perennial disappointments in the NCAA tournament, Lavender and the fourth-seeded Buckeyes look to begin a deeper run Saturday afternoon in Columbus against 13th-seeded UCF.
The Buckeyes (22-9) won six consecutive Big Ten regular-season titles from 2005-2010, and Lavender – who arrived as a freshman in 2007-08 – led them to conference tournament crowns as a sophomore and junior.
She won a fourth consecutive Big Ten player of the year award as a senior, but a 4-6 conference start ruined any chances of another regular-season championship.
That didn’t stop Lavender from leading Ohio State into another postseason as one of the nation’s hottest teams. The Buckeyes reeled off six consecutive wins to close the regular season and three more by double digits in the Big Ten tournament, culminating with an 84-70 victory over Penn State in the final March 6.
“I just really enjoy this part of it,” Lavender said after becoming the first player in Big Ten tourney history to win three Most Outstanding Player awards. “The championships and the cutting down the nets, it can never get old.”
The Buckeyes have had to relish their achievements in Indianapolis, because that’s where their March success has typically ended. Ohio State hasn’t advanced past the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament in Lavender’s career, twice losing to lower-seeded teams.
In all, the Buckeyes have been ousted by a lower seed in five of their last six trips to the tournament.
All three of its tournament losses with Lavender have been by double digits, including last season’s 87-67 second-round rout as a No. 2 seed against seventh-seeded Mississippi State.
Coach Jim Foster has a feeling that won’t happen again.
“I think last year’s group was not capable of handling the adversity that we went through because they were not as close a group as this year’s group is,” said Foster, in his ninth season at Ohio State.
While the Buckeyes enter the tournament on a nine-game winning streak, UCF (22-10) is even hotter. Sitting at 11-10 heading into February, the Knights won their final 11 games by an average of 10.0 points, including an 85-73 victory over Tulane on March 12 to take the Conference USA tournament title.
“There are not a lot of people outside of our locker room that thought we would be in this situation, sitting here,” coach Joi Williams said. “I’m just so happy to be able to be a part of their lives for the last four years and I know they are going to continue to do great things.”
UCF has lost all three of its previous NCAA tournament games, but was a feisty underdog as a No. 14 seed two years ago. The Knights gave third-seeded North Carolina all they could handle in the first round before falling 85-80.
All four of UCF’s current top four scorers played in that game, including seniors D’Nay Daniels (14.2 points per game) and Chelsie Wiley (14.1).
While Lavender has averaged 19.2 points in her six career NCAA tournament games, Ohio State’s hopes of making a lengthy run this time may rest in the backcourt. Second-leading scorer Samantha Prahalis (14.1 ppg) is tied for third in the nation in assists per game (6.8), but she’s had a total of 16 turnovers in the Buckeyes’ last two NCAA tournament defeats.
The winner will face fifth-seeded Georgia Tech or 12th-seeded Bowling Green on Monday.