Ohio State, Mississippi State set for rematch
No. 8 Ohio State and Mississippi State are familiar Women's NCAA Tournament opponents.
But both are a different version of last year's teams, which met in a second-round game on Ohio State's floor, won when the Buckeyes closed the game on a 10-0 run to erase a four-point deficit.
That doesn't mean it won't be another closely contested game in their second-round rematch tonight at Petersen Events Center.
"When you take a look at Mississippi State now, from another dimension, they're more of a four-guard team with one post player," Ohio State coach Jim Foster said. "They're a little bit different with their physicality and their presence."
Chanel Mokango, a 6-foot-5 All-SEC defensive team member, was impressive in guarding Middle Tennessee star Alysha Clark, the national scoring leader, in Mississippi State's come-from-behind first-round victory.
Mokango, who held the 5-10 Clark to 17 points (more than 11 below her season average), will be asked to front Ohio State All-American Jantel Lavender, a 6-4 junior who averages double figures in scoring (21.5 ppg.) and rebounding (10.4 rpg.).
"It's going to be tough," Mokango said. "Overall, we just need to play good team defense. It's going to take a team effort to successfully achieve our game plan."
Lavender, who scored 20 points in Ohio State's 68-64 victory over Mississippi State last season, is coming off a double-double (23 points, 16 rebounds) in the Buckeye's 93-59 first-round win over St. Francis (Pa.).
Ohio State (31-4), the second-seeded team in the Dayton Region, won't have a homecourt advantage this time. That doesn't matter to Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning-Otis, who said the Buckeyes are imposing.
But Fanning-Otis likes her team's chances. Mississippi State (20-12) is led by point guard Alexis Rack, who scored 21 points against Middle Tennessee.
"People have been saying all of this hype about a rematch, but we both are two different teams, two improved teams from last year," Fanning-Otis said. "Last year, being in Columbus, Ohio State felt at home. But as I tell the team, you have to be ready to play anyone, anywhere, anytime."
Seventh-seeded Mississippi State had to fight its way back Sunday from 15 points down to beat Middle Tennessee, 68-64, in an emotional first-round game.
Expect another tough game for Mississippi State tonight.
"We have to play a lot better defense than we did," Rack said.
And Ohio State knows it had better shift out of cruise control from Sunday's first-round rout.
"I expect them to come out with a lot of fire and a feeling of getting revenge on us," Lavender said. "They're going to come in with the thought they can contend with us. They're going to be really juiced up and wanting to go to the Sweet 16 this year because it's the same game, the same situation as last year."
With 176 career blocks, Mokango is Mississippi State's all-time leader.
She set a school record last season with 97 and has recorded 79 blocks this season.
Rack became Mississippi State's third all-time leading scorer with 1,713 career points and fellow senior Tysheka Grimes, who scored eight against Middle Tennessee, moved into 16th place with 1,064.