Ohio State (15-3, 6-1) is scheduled to visit Penn State (16-5, 6-1) Thursday in a clash of the Big Ten conference women’s basketball leaders. Both Ohio State and Penn State are 6-1 in conference standings, with perfect 10-0 records on their home courts this year.
Penn State was expected to hold the top spot in conference play and was voted pre-season No. 1 by coaches and No. 2 by the media. Surprisingly, Ohio State, who wasn’t picked to finish among the top three spots in the league, has emerged as one of the more dominant teams in the conference.
Ohio State is currently riding a four-game winning streak over Wisconsin, Northwestern, Illinois and Iowa and has compiled an impressive 9-1 record over its last 10 games with two of those wins coming over opponents ranked in the top 25.
However, the Nittany Lions should provide a real test for the up-and-coming Buckeyes. Penn State has won its last two games in conference play and has proved its talent and capabilities by going 5-1 against top-25 opponents this year.
The Lions are led by pre-season Big Ten player of the year, junior guard Kelly Mazzante. Ohio State must control Mazzante if they hope to take over the top spot in the conference standings. Ohio State also boasts a three- to four-guard offensive set, one that often creates matchup problems for other teams.
However, Ohio State head coach Jim Foster and his team do not plan to change the way they play just because Penn State uses a smaller lineup.
“If you spend an inordinate amount of time preparing differently for a game because a particular team has a perceived weakness in an area, you might be taking away from one of your strengths,” Foster said.
When asked Monday how his team was preparing for Penn State, he said, “I think we are just going to go out and play the game. I think Penn State will just go out and play the game. We’ll see what happens.”
Mazzante nearing record
Mazzante, guard for Penn State, is only 65 points shy of becoming the third player in Penn State history to reach the 2,000-point milestone. Mazzante enters the game against Ohio State Thursday with 1,935 career points. She would be the first junior in Big Ten women’s basketball history to reach the 2,000-point level.
She has already been named the Big Ten player of the week three times this year and is also on track to pass Purdue’s Katie Douglass (1,965, 1997-2001), who is 10th on the conference’s all-time scoring list. Mazzante has had a challenging year, not just on the court, where players are guarding her more tightly than ever before, but also off the court.
Early last fall she had a case of mononucleosis that kept her out of school for three weeks, and she has had other health problems as recently as last week.
Asked Monday to comment on her star player, head coach Rene Portland replied, “It’s pretty amazing how she handled it. Not just what she had last week, but coming off the pretty rough case of mononucleosis she had in August. It really shut her down; she was out almost three weeks of school.”
Portland went on to praise Mazzante’s current achievements in the league.
“It’s pretty amazing what Kelly is doing,” Portland said. “Her statistics this year are better than last year. She is leading the league in scoring and is one of the only players in the league that still gets a box and one.”
Ohio State will have the difficult task Thursday of slowing down Mazzante and Penn State.