Hoping to extend a seven-game win streak, the Princeton women’s basketball team (9-1) will travel to Ohio to square off against No. 10 Ohio State on Friday.
The Ohio State Buckeyes (6-3 overall) have so far lost only to top-tier teams UConn, South Carolina and Notre Dame. The Buckeyes hold a 1-0 all-time record against the Tigers, having won their only other meeting in 1979.
Ohio State has scored an average of 84.7 points per game. Princeton has scored an average of 74.7 points per game and holds a field goal percentage comparableto that of the Buckeyes (45.4 percent versus the Buckeyes’ 45.6 percent).
Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell leads the Buckeyes in scoring, with 24.4 points per game. Other key players on the Ohio State side are guard Ameryst Alston, who has averaged 17.9 points on 48.8 percent shooting, and forward Shayla Cooper, who leads the team in rebounds (9.3 per game).
Princeton holds the advantage in rebounding. The team currently ranks sixth in the nation in rebounding margin (+15.8) and claims 46.2 rebounds per game compared to Ohio State’s 37.9. Senior forward Annie Tarakchian is instrumental in securing possession for the Tigers, with 9.4 rebounds per game.Tarakchian and the rest of the starting five will have to set the pace of the game early on against the Buckeyes, a highly athletic and offensive team.
“They’re very strong, and they’re athletic and have a fast style of play, so I think we’re just going to have to really focus on our fundamentals overall,” Tarakchian said. “It’s going to be crucial that we play a five-on-five game. Taking them one-on-one is not going to be good for us, so I think our biggest key is to be a five-on-five team.”
The starting five, with senior forward Annie Tarakchian, senior guards Michelle Miller, Amanda Berntsen and Alex Wheatley and junior guard Vanessa Smith, have been developing as a dynamic team. Tarakchian and Miller lead the team in points per game, while Berntsen leads in assists (3.6 per game). In the Tigers’ recent wins over Pittsburgh and Fordham, Wheatley played a key role with 15 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. For her performance, she was recently named the Ivy League Women’s Basketball Player of the Week. The youngest player on the starting squad, Smith has scored an average of 6.2 points per game and has made 14 steals and 45 rebounds over the span of ten games.
While the Tigers have developed strong fundamentals, their early-season wins have not come without challenges. On Monday, Fordham opened the second half of the game on a 13-2 run, forcing the Tigers to find their defense. A similar scene played out on Saturday when Pittsburgh responded to a strong Princeton offensive start with an 18-3 run right before halftime. These mid-game runs, however, will ultimately develop depth on the team as players outside the starting five work to establish their own rhythm.
“Basketball is a game of runs, so learning to deal with them and grow as a team to overcome them is going to be super important for us earlier on in our season,” Smith said. “Seeing adversity early on is kind of better for us and it helps us grow stronger as a team.”
As the favorites in this matchup, the Ohio State Buckeyes will undoubtedly provide some more constructive adversity for the Tigers. The good news is that the Princeton starters have proven themselves able to sustain their level of play away from Jadwin. The Tigers have averaged 77.5 points per game away from home and hold a +15.8 rebounding edge and 17.3 assists on the road. Of course, the Buckeyes are no average opponent and will challenge the Tigers to bring their best play.Princeton and OSU will face off at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 18 at Schottenstein Center. On Sunday the Tigers will continue their Ohio trip with a game against No. 12 Dayton.