COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - No. 7 Ohio State has all five starters
back, including stars Jantel Lavender and Samantha Prahalis, from a
31-5 team that captured a record sixth straight straight Big Ten
And somehow coach Jim Foster believes that's not necessarily all
"Having five starters back can be as much of a curse as it is a
blessing," said Foster, a glittering 212-52 in his eight years at
Ohio State and 716-277 in 32 seasons overall. "It depends on how
your starters handle that and how your subs handle that. And if
your starters act like, 'I don't have to work real hard, I'm a
starter,' and your subs act like, 'Well, I'm a sub,' then that
doesn't bode well for success."
He has challenged his players to not just fill a role but
challenge for more playing time, more points, more wins.
"I understand that theory of becoming complacent because you
think you know the game and you know what to expect," said
Lavender, who averaged 21.4 points and 10.3 rebounds a year ago
while being acknowledged as the Big Ten's best player for the third
year in a row. "But we have to bring it every game."
The athletic, 6-foot-4 Lavender, also a preseason first-team
Associated Press All-America, is joined by Prahalis, the
don't-stop-til-you-drop point guard who never saw a behind-the-back
or no-look pass she wouldn't try. Prahalis went for 16.3 points and
8 assists a game and also was first-team All-Big Ten.
Also back for the Buckeyes are zone-buster Brittany Johnson,
swingman and defensive stalwart Tayler Hill and inside-out player
"All of us have worked on aspects of our game that we need to
get better at," said Johnson, who made almost three-quarters of
her field goals behind the arc. "This season is going to be really
good. With the starters we have coming back, we definitely have
learned new things and to play hard all the time and to not take
any time off."
A solid five-person recruiting class will press the
A year ago, the Buckeyes won by an average of 18 points a game,
their only losses coming at Duke in early December, three
conference losses by a total of 10 points, and a painful defeat
against Mississippi State in the second round of the NCAA
Early knockouts in the tournament are nothing new to the
Buckeyes - despite rolling through the regular season and getting
low NCAA seeds they've only made it to the round of 16 twice in
Foster's eight years.
It's the one blot on what has been a golden era for the Ohio
The setback a year ago, against a team the Buckeyes had handled
in the second round a year ago, was particularly troubling because
of how it unfolded.
"Last year's team, there was a great feeling of frustration.
I've said before that we've got to be a more mature team and all
indications that we're heading in that direction," Foster said.
"We weren't very mature last year."
That was evidenced by Prahalis' embarrassing meltdown in the
second round in Pittsburgh. When a foul call didn't go her way late
in the game and with the Buckeyes already in deep trouble, Prahalis
yelled at officials, slammed down the ball and stalked to the
Prahalis, far tougher than her slight stature and build might
predict, said the Buckeyes have corrected the immaturity problem.
"We just have something to prove to ourselves," she said. "We
can be better, we're going to be better. We've been working hard
and we understand that you have to be mentally and physically tough
to win. It's hard, but we're willing to do it."
The Buckeyes hope for even better things thanks to more depth
"This team is probably the most athletic team I've been on, and
it's the most competitive," said Lavender, who needs just 534 more
points to tie Katie Smith's school record (2,578). "We have a lot
of people challenging people for spots. No one is complacent. No
one thinks that their spot is sealed."
It's not hard to pinpoint a game that will determine just how
mature the Buckeyes are. They go to Madison Square Garden to play
mighty Connecticut on Dec. 19.
"The tough games we've got to step up and show up," said
Prahalis, a native New Yorker who has had the game circled on her
calendar from the day it was announced. "In previous years, we
kind of folded and we let someone have their attitude on us and
sort of come in and kind of punk us. This year we're ready for the
Foster is trying to downplay what is one of the biggest games in
his program's history.
"Connecticut is Connecticut. There's no two ways about it," he
said. "But it's Connecticut at Madison Square Garden, a historic
building, and a program that everyone sort of measures themselves
So mark the date on your calendar. The Buckeyes already have.