Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ohio State "bucks" doubters while beating Gophers


Ohio State can almost always count on momentum when Minnesota is up on their schedule, they led the all-time series 49-10 heading in to Sunday's game at Williams Arena.

After a grueling duel, the Buckeyes chalked up win number 50 with an 83-76 victory, continuing their psychological stronghold over the Gophers.

"A lot of people were saying we are heartless when we're on the road," said Ohio State guard Tayler Hill. "We got up, we lost the lead, and then we came back."

Hill did not hesitate to respond to critics as Ohio State (15-9, 6-6) evened their conference record.

"It makes me want to kill every team we play. Any team, any player," she said.

"We're finding about our character right now. That is impacting us in a very positive way," said Ohio State head coach Jim Foster.

Senior center Jantel Lavender played her usual dominating game inside and finished with a game-high 29 points, adding nine rebounds. She became Ohio State's all-time leading scorer with a transition lay-up at the 16:28 mark in the second half, besting Katie Smith's record of 2,578 points.

To boot, Lavender broke the NCAA record for most consecutive games in double-figures, marking her 126th.

"It's a milestone in my career I won't ever forget. The reason I can score is because of my teammates and my coaches having in faith in me to be a go-to player," she said.

Although Lavender will not likely surpass Connecticut's Maya Moore for the all-time NCAA scoring record, she will present a challenge for any future Buckeye to break the school record with a few games left to pad her lead. Foster believes Lavender has not made her last collegiate impression.

"Someone that's scored double-figures every time she's walked on the court, when most defenses are working on stopping you, that speaks volumes," he said.

For most of the game, both teams essentially canceled each other out, with Minnesota (11-14, 3-9) out-rebounding Ohio State 40-32 while Ohio State forced 16 turnovers to Minnesota's seven.

While early nerves kept the Gophers from leading in the first half, they tied seven times with the Buckeyes, including the halftime break with the score 36-36.

Minnesota would tie two more times until a Jackie Voigt three-pointer gave the home team their first lead at 43-42 early in the second half, and that set the stage for a back-and-forth fight throughout the second.

Ohio State could not relax until the final minute, but the key moment was junior guard Samantha Prahalis draining a three-pointer to break a 71-71 tie with 2:18 left, bothering a young Minnesota team just enough to seal a win.

"In the last three minutes of the game, we did not have an answer for Tayler Hill penetrating to the basket," said Minnesota head coach Pam Borton.

Hill, the all-time leading high school scorer in Minnesota history, flashed a few moves she was known for while playing at Minneapolis South. Hill scored 19 points for the game and sank eight free throws in the final 3:07.

"We're one of the only teams on a daily basis that works on free throws," she said. "It was just like practice."

The stamina Hill developed playing almost every minute at South also proved useful, as she played all 40 minutes against Minnesota.

Although Hill can log large blocks of time, the adversity facing Ohio State this year is an obstacle she never faced at South, even as her high school rival, Minnesota guard Kiara Buford, won two state championships against Hill's old South team.

"In high school, I wasn't challenged every day. The competition wasn't there," she said. "In practice, there's drills we do called 'and two.' No breaks. Time and time up and down the court."

Buford led Minnesota in scoring with 23 points and made her last 10 free throws after missing her first four.

"I promised myself after that fourth one that I wasn't going to miss any more," she said.

Team chemistry is also no longer missing for the Gophers, even though expectations may not be high when the Big Ten tournament begins. That did not make Borton any less proud for her team's fight against the Buckeyes.

"We have figured out the ingredients to win basketball games," she said.

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