Oct. 21, 2004

The 2004-05 season marks the 40th year of Ohio State women’s basketball. The Buckeyes started the celebration on the right foot by garnering preseason projections of a No. 13 ranking by Lindy’s and a No. 8 spot on Athlon’s preseason poll. In his third year at the helm of the Buckeye program, Jim Foster will rely on a group of nine returning letterwinners, six of which have two-consecutive NCAA trips under their belts, to lead four decorated newcomers and continue the rich tradition of OSU women’s basketball. With three All-Big Ten players in Jessica Davenport, Brandie Hoskins and Caity Matter, including the media’s pick for the conference’s freshman of the year in Davenport, a Big Ten championship and a national title are the goals for Foster’s third Buckeye team.

Foster can count on four returning starters – Jessica Davenport, Brandie Hoskins, Caity Matter and Kim Wilburn – and five key reserves – Ashley Allen, Stephanie Blanton, Candace Dark, Beth Howe and Michelle Muñoz – to bring experience and depth to a Buckeye squad that finished third in the Big Ten last year. Junior transfer Tia Battle and freshmen Alice Jamen, Marscilla Packer and Tamarah Riley are expected to contribute immediately, while Debbie Merrill, a 2003 Honorable Mention All-American transfer from Cincinnati, will aid the squad in practices while she fulfills her one year residence transfer requirement.

Jessica Davenport, a sophomore who led the Big Ten with a .625 field-goal percentage and averaged 12.5 points and 5.7 caroms per game, will have to lead the Buckeyes under the bucket. With the loss of LaToya Turner, a third team All-Big Ten selection who averaged 12.4 points an outing and led the team with 6.6 boards per game, Davenport will be the most experienced player in the paint. The league’s blocked shots leader (2.58 per game), Davenport set the Ohio State season record for blocked shots with 80 total swats as a freshman. A true center, Davenport is not limited to playing under the bucket and can be a threat throughout the entire lane.

Forward Michelle Muñoz, a junior transfer from the University of Tennessee, averaged 5.1 points per game and 2.7 rebounds per game last season for OSU. Unfortunately, she was injured in a practice prior to the Feb. 8 Purdue game and did not return to the hardwood until the NCAA tournament games. Muñoz’ versatility is most apparent in her combination of size and strength and her outside shooting touch, which results in her ability to play inside and be a threat on the outside.

Aiding Davenport and Muñoz down low is sophomore Stephanie Blanton. Blanton averaged 3.2 point and 2.5 rebounds per game in her first year under Foster. She saw playing time in 30 games and averaged 12.2 minutes per game. Blanton will be able to add knowledge from her first season at Ohio State and will most likely see valuable playing time.

Alice Jamen and Tamarah Riley will both be relied upon to help fill the gap in the lane as a result of Turner’s absence. Jamen left her hometown of Yaoundé, Cameroon, to attend high school at the Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy in Wheeling, W. Va. Jamen, who was a 2004 McDonald’s All-American Nominee, will provide speed and coordination in the post.

Riley, a finalist for the 2003 Miss Basketball Award by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan, will be another fresh face in the paint for Foster’s squad. A 2004 McDonald’s All-American Nominee, Riley’s high school teams only lost four games in her four years and made it to the final four every year, with runner-up finishes twice. Riley will be able to contribute at both the high and low post positions.

The guard spot is stacked for Foster’s Buckeyes and most notable is the return of fifth-year senior Caity Matter. Matter, a second team All-Big Ten selection by the media and coaches, was the team’s leading scorer last season with 14.8 points per contest. She improved her all-around game by averaging nearly four rebounds per contest, posting her first career double-double at Michigan (15 points, 10 boards) and leading the team with a .772 average from the charity stripe. Matter continues to climb the record books at Ohio State and put herself at the top of the single-game list for 3-pointers made with eight shots drained from beyond the 3-point line vs. IUPUI Dec. 1.

Sophomore Brandie Hoskins, who was named to the All-Big Ten rookie team last year, is another returning guard for OSU. Hoskins, who provides an incredibly quick first step to the basket and the ability to score, added 9.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game last year. The most valuable player of the 2004 Wonder/Hostess Buckeye Classic, Hoskins ranked No. 3 among league leaders with a 2.63 assist-to-turnover ratio and No. 6 for assists (4.10 per game) last season.

Junior Kim Wilburn is a junior with two years experience under the leadership of Foster. She will be a consistent spark on transition play, a defensive threat and a knowledgeable guard. The Big Ten’s leader for steals per game (2.94) for the second consecutive year, Wilburn averaged a team-high 32.8 minutes per outing and netted 6.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game.

Beth Howe is a veteran senior leader who contributed in major games last year for the Buckeyes. Howe upped her minutes from 6.1 as a sophomore to over 10 minutes per contest last season. She showed poise and control in pressure situations, such as her 10-point performance off a 5-of-6 stroke from the field in the semifinals of the 2004 Big Ten Tournament vs. eventual champion Purdue. Look for Howe to continue to up her playing time during her senior year.

Another guard Foster will rely on is Candace Dark, a junior who saw her minutes increase from 3.3 a game her rookie campaign to 11.6 per outing last year. Dark contributed 3.3 points and 1.4 rebounds per game. She aided the Buckeyes in a 73-59 victory at No. 21/23 UC Santa Barbara last year. Her career-high 12-point effort off a 4-of-7 afternoon from the field helped Ohio State snap UCSB’s 27-game home winning streak – a mark that ranked No. 2 in the country.

The final guard returning to Foster’s roster is Ashley Allen, a senior shooting guard who has missed portions of the previous two seasons because of injury. Allen was absent the final seven games of the 2002-03 season when she suffered a knee injury at Illinois Feb. 19. Allen returned to action in the UNC Wilmington contest, during which she hit all four shots she attempted from the 3-point arc and scored 15 points. Allen was bit by the injury bug once again during her sixth game last year when she was injured on a fast-break in the St. John’s game Dec. 21. She missed the remainder of the year.

Tia Battle, a transfer from Vanderbilt who is listed as a guard and a forward, fulfilled her one-year NCAA residence requirement last year and will anxiously return to the court this season. Battle, who competed for one season under Foster when he was at Vanderbilt, averaged 5.5 points and 2.3 rebounds in 18.5 minutes per game during her two seasons playing for the Commodores.

In her first year wearing Scarlet and Gray, Marscilla Packer, a freshman from Pickerington, Ohio, will add even more depth at the guard position for Foster. Packer, a 2004 McDonald’s and WBCA All-American, will be utilized for her quickness and shooting ability at the guard spot. The 2004 Dispatch/Agonis Club Co-Player of the Year and the AP Division I Tri-Player of the Year, Packer averaged 22.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.3 steals as a senior with a 49 percent average from the field, a 46 percent mark from 3-point land and a 79 percent average from the free-throw line.

While most of the women’s basketball team spent time lifting weights, conditioning and playing in the summer leagues in Columbus, one player gained experience of another sort. Jessica Davenport was a member of the 2004 Big Ten Basketball Foreign Tour Team and scored double-digits in all four contests abroad. She averaged 15.0 points and 6.8 boards per outing as a member of the undefeated 12-player roster under the direction of Indiana’s Kathi Bennett. Bennett’s team went 4-0 in Australia during the 11-day trip.

2004-05 SLATE
After an exhibition game vs. the Australian Institute of Sport Nov. 10, two tournaments begin the 2004-05 campaign for a Buckeye squad that is returning four starters. Ohio State will be part of the 2004 Preseason WNIT Nov. 12-21 and will play host to the 2004 Wonder/Hostess Buckeye Classic Thanksgiving weekend. The Buckeyes’ first round of the Preseason WNIT will be vs. Bowling Green Nov. 12 in Value City Arena. If the Buckeyes win, round two will be vs. either Boston University or St. Joseph’s in St. John Arena Nov. 14. Semifinal games and the championship contest will take place on campus sites to be determined Nov. 17 and either Nov. 20 or 21, respectively.

The 2004 Wonder/Hostess Buckeye Classic will be revived for the second-consecutive year after an eight-season absence from the OSU schedule. It is scheduled to take place in St. John Arena before the Buckeyes take to the road for five of the seven games in December. In the tournament, Bradley will play Detroit in game one and Ohio State will face Yale in game two Nov. 27. The consolation and championship contests will take place Nov. 28 in St. John Arena.

A road trip to Ohio University Dec. 1 precedes a day trip tp Dayton Dec. 4. Ohio State returns to action when it plays host to Big 12 opponent Nebraska Dec. 11. The Buckeyes play Penn Dec. 13 and in the Nike Classic at Oregon Dec. 18. UCLA and Ohio State play Dec. 21 in Value City Arena and the Buckeyes open Big Ten play at Penn State Dec. 30. After the New Year, OSU begins the home portion of the Big Ten Conference schedule vs. Purdue Jan. 2 and vs. Michigan State Jan. 6.

There will be two breaks for Ohio State from Big Ten play. The first will be when Ohio State plays host to Liberty, a 2004 NCAA participant, Jan. 9 in Value City Arena. The second is a rematch of the 2003 Big Ten/Big East Challenge game vs. Rutgers Jan. 16. The Rutgers game will be broadcast on ESPN2. Ohio State will resume conference competition and the final regular-season game will be a battle with defending Big Ten regular-season champion Penn State Feb. 27 in Value City Arena.

Postseason play will begin with the annual Big Ten tournament, which takes place March 3-7 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The 2004 NCAA Final Four also will be held in Indianapolis at the RCA Dome April 3 and 5.