Ohio St. Preps For Penn St.

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

Sarah Schulze.

"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

State program.

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

and athleticism.

"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

tough schedule."

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.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)