Ohio Women’s Basketball has Historic Year< < Back to
The Ohio women’s basketball team walked into the Wells Fargo Arena Saturday afternoon before many Ohio and Arizona State fans had arrived for the game. Determined. Focused. Ready for the program’s first NCAA Tournament game since 1995. They had four days to prepare for the No. 9 team in the nation, Arizona State.
The girls watched the Texas A&M Aggies fall to Arkansas-Little Rock, an upset to start the day in Tempe, Ariz. Tipoff was in 30 minutes. It was their time.
As warm-ups began, there was zero doubt that the Sun Devils had an enormous advantage on Ohio. Their fans outnumbered Bobcat fans by nearly 2,500. Looking one side to the other, Arizona State looked like a different breed with its size advantage.
And it wasn’t just during warm-ups that the Sun Devils used their size to their advantage. Ohio struggled the entire game to control the defensive pressure and height, finding themselves down 16 at halftime. The second half was the same story, as the Bobcats fell to Arizona State, 74-55.
No 14 seed has ever won in the NCAA Tournament for women’s basketball, and for Ohio, that curse of the 14 seed continued in Tempe on Saturday.
However, a 19-point loss to the No. 9 team in the nation cannot take away the impressive turnaround the Bobcats experienced this past year.
Coming off a nine-win season, voters predicted the Ohio Bobcats to finish fourth in the Mid-American Conference East Division. They were entering Bob Boldon’s second season as head coach and returned all of their players from the previous season.
How could the Bobcats make a huge improvement when there’s little change to the team that only won nine games last year?
Ohio started to showcase what they had in its first game of the year on the road against Murray State. The Bobcats knocked down a season-high 18 three pointers en route to an 111-60 win.
The 51-point win caught some eyes, but skepticism remained. Is this team legit, or are they playing easy teams in their nonconference schedule?
It was a little bit of both. Out of all the teams they faced prior to MAC play, only East Carolina, James Madison, Cleveland State and Northern Kentucky had winning records. The Bobcats went 2-2 against those teams.
However, they beat the teams that they had to on their schedule and by a wide margin, winning games by 17.6 points a game.
No matter how much they won by, though, there was still doubt on if this team can compete with some of the top teams in the MAC. After starting 1-1 in the MAC, with a loss coming to Western Michigan, the Bobcats won five straight games before facing Akron.
The Zips had only one loss in nonconference play and came to Athens as the No. 1 team in the MAC. Ohio took the home game, 72-60. The skeptics started to go silent, as the Bobcats were for real.
Ohio finished the regular season by winning 15 of its last 16, with that one loss coming at home to Eastern Michigan.
They clinched the No. 1 seed in the MAC Tournament and faced Buffalo in the semifinals. The Bulls were not an easy for the Bobcats in the regular season, led by Kristen Sharkey and Mackenzie Loesing. But a strong second half from Mariah Byard, the team’s lone senior, gave the Bobcats what they needed to pull off an 8-point win.
In the postgame press conference, Byard and Kiyanna Black both said they wanted to face Eastern Michigan to get revenge against the only team that had beaten them in their last 17 games.
And the two got their wish. Led by sophomore Cha Sweeney, Eastern Michigan strolled into the MAC Championship by winning all of its games by double digits. The Bobcats wanted revenge, and Eastern Michigan was going to make it difficult for Ohio to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Led by Sweeney’s 16 points in the first half, the Eagles were up two points heading to the locker rooms. Ohio had 20 minutes to adjust and win the game to advance.
Offensively and defensively, a different Bobcat team showed up in the second half — starting with the play of Black. After starting the game with just four points, Black went for 21 in the second half, including four threes in the final nine minutes to boost Ohio’s lead to double digits.
Eastern Michigan had just one point in the final 7:12 and only scored 17 points in the second half, a season-best for the Bobcats’ defense. Ohio’s 16-point win gave them a berth into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995 and a MAC Tournament title for the first time since 1986.
Even though the Bobcats failed to keep the dream season alive by becoming the first 14 seed to ever win an NCAA Tournament game, the progress can’t be overlooked.
Boldon was named the MAC Coach of the Year and signed a 5-year contract extension shortly after the announcement. The only player he loses to graduation is Byard, an All-MAC Honorable Mention selection.
Among the players that will be returning next year is Black, who tied a MAC record with 100 three pointers this year and received First Team All-MAC honors, and Quiera Lampkins, who had 17 points against Arizona State and also received All-MAC honors as a Third Team selection.
Their 27-5 record is among the best in MAC history, and they finished the season as the winningest team in program history. The records go on-and-on, including most three-pointers made and attempted in MAC history.
The 19-point loss to Arizona State on Saturday shows that the Bobcats still have areas to address this offseason to continue to compete in the MAC and eventually win the program’s first NCAA Tournament game.
Nonetheless, Ohio took a giant step in the right direction this season, and if they build on their success, little can stop the Bobcats from continuing to make history.