Updated Mon, Feb 4, 2013 6:22 pm
It wasn’t just cold weather that swept into Athens this January. Ohio women’s basketball has been swept in MAC play in 2013 thus far, losing seven straight MAC games, the worst conference start under head coach, Semeka Randall.
But despite being overwhelmed by the strongest opponents in the conference, afflicted with a plethora of injuries, and dogged by poor performance on the court, Ohio could see a late-season turnaround in the month of Febrnuary.
In what looked to be an optimistic start to the New Year, especially without the presence of guard Shavon Robinson, Ohio handed Xavier, a customary postseason participant, a 68-62 loss in Cincinnati.
Going into conference play with a 5-7 record, the Green and White fumbled whatever type of momentum it created off a win in southwestern Ohio; they have lost each of their seven MAC contests by an average of over 27 points a game, their closest loss coming recently against Toledo by 19 points.
“It was pretty rough,” guard Mariah Byard said of the difficulty of the past month’s play. “We’ve had a lot of injuries, obviously, and we have five players logging thirty-plus minutes. Starting the conference play without a win is tough on anyone.”
Injuries added to the already unforgiving schedule Ohio faced in the past month. Robinson suffered a leg injury before the Xaiver game, only to return this past contest against Toledo, a month since she last saw the hardwood. Byard, a perimeter threat for a team that shot under 30 percent in a five-game skid in which she was out, also revisited the court against Toledo after a nearly three week absence.
During the month, bench players Kat Yelle and Olivia McCuskey were determined out for season due to injury. While neither player saw many valuable minutes for the first part of the season, their presence on the bench did prove to be a factor for the Bobcats.
With the departure of two, and the temporary loss of another couple, Ohio added two athletes to its roster in Laura Mastro, a field hockey player at Ohio, who also played high school basketball, and Ashley Jordan, a former Bobcat volleyball player, who was on the women’s basketball practice squad. Both have seen minutes on the court, but Mastro has had a more significant impact, coming in for some crucial minutes when starters needed rest.
“Having that one extra person there is helpful,” forward Tina Fisher said. “I know for the guards it’s been difficult getting them subs. The subbing has been weird.”
Unusual, yes, that many of Ohio’s starters have logged in thirty-plus minutes of play in games due to weak bench play. Senior guard Ashley Fowler has only sat out 22 minutes through seven games of MAC play, playing three games with 38 minutes or more.
Yet, there is light on the horizon for a decrepit Bobcat team. In the past seven games, Ohio has played the top four teams in the MAC East and the top three teams in the MAC West, and it has yet to play a team that has a losing record in the conference.
Where February differs is in the strength of opponents and the resurgence of a debilitated Bobcat team. Ohio opens the month with a home stand against Kent State and Northern Illinois, either of whom has yet to win a game in conference. They split the home-court advantage with opponents Eastern and Western Michigan, traveling to Ypsilanti to face an Eagles’ team that lost eight straight earlier in the season and whose only conference wins come against Kent State and Western Michigan.
“We take each game one at a time and look at who we’re playing,” Fisher said. “It’s one of those things where, yes, the teams we we’re playing were at the top, but we can’t play the way we we’re playing. Come February, we have to take this next step, take each game one at a time and definitely come out from start to finish, even though we are low in numbers.”
Towards the end of the month, the Green and White travel north to Kent and finish the season with three of their last four games at home, where they hope to take a more successful month into the conference tournament.
“We take it one game at a time,” Randall said after the loss to Toledo on Thursday night. “It’s good to see everyone is back in it and we’ll see where we can go. Again, we have to take care of our bodies. Our focus has to be extremely well because we still can’t go long because of lagging injuries but we have to make everything count when we step out on that floor.”
Ohio hosts Kent State at 2 p.m. Sunday, looking for its first conference win and, perhaps, the resurrection of a fading season.