COLUMBUS - After losing shooting star Tayler Hill's 21 points a game and running-mate Amber Stokes who averaged 10, it figures that new Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff will need to rely on the Buckeyes to shut down other teams.
"One of our biggest strengths is going to need to be our defense," said McGuff, a former Xavier coach who was hired away from the University of Washington to replace fired 11-year coach Jim Foster last spring. "We have some size around the basket and enough athleticism on the perimeter to kind of put together a team that can really, really defend.
"Especially early on as we try to find our way on offense."
Anything short of being a great defensive team and the Buckeyes likely will scuffle in a year of transition.
They return three starters from an 18-13 team - guards Raven Ferguson and Ameryst Alston and center Ashley Adams - but are sorely in need of someone to take the tough shots. Those three combined for just 22 points a game. Only one other player on the roster averaged as many as 4 points a game.
Ferguson was suspended on Thursday for the first three games for a violation of team rules.
McGuff must have Adams, in particular, contribute at the offensive end. A brawny 6-foot-5 senior, she is a terrific passer and shot-blocker who has never asserted herself in terms of scoring.
Asked if she's comfortable being a go-to player at the offensive end, she said, "I'm getting more comfortable each day, I'm learning that I can put it up more often."
Alston will play the point after an eye-opener of a freshman season in which the two-time Associated Press Ms. Basketball in Ohio averaged 6.5 points and 2.7 assists a game.
She believes the best way to make up for the loss of Taylor and Stokes - a top WNBA draft pick and a former Big Ten defensive player of the year, respectively - is to step up the pace.
"Everyone has to be involved, whether you're in the game, on the bench, cheering your teammates, or the coaches as well," she said. "We're all pushing each other. I feel that's how you keep the tempo up."
McGuff, who spent nine years as the head coach at Xavier before winning 41 games the last two seasons with the Huskies, will hope his team's speed can create some chaos that results in easy baskets.
In a 101-48 rout of overmatched Bellarmine in a preseason game, McGuff went with four guards roiling the waters around Adams. They created 28 turnovers. Nine players put in double-figures in minutes and a metronome might have had trouble keeping up.
Cait Craft - you might know her brother, Buckeyes' pest supreme of a point guard, Aaron Craft - and Maleeka Kynard made up the remainder of the starting five. Coming off the bench are role players Amy Scullion (Salem High School graduate), Martina Ellerbe, Darryce Moore, Lisa Blair, Shelbi Honeycutt and Aleskandra Dobranic.
"If we're not at the level (of conditioning) that coach wants us to be, we're just going to run a lot more in practice," warned Scullion, a frequently injured fourth-year junior who hasn't really had a chance to show what she can do until now.
That's the thing: A lot of people will get a chance to play. None will be as good as Hill, or even Stokes, but the Buckeyes hope to swarm teams by throwing a lot of people at them.
Ferguson said she knew things had changed when she wasn't feeling well earlier this fall and told McGuff.
"He said, 'Can you practice?' And I said yes. Then he was, 'Can you practice hard? 110 percent?'" she said, smiling. "It was, like, 'Yeah, I care that you're sick but once you get on the court, it's all over.'"
Foster was fired last spring after 11 years of success - until his teams got into the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes were a top-10 team for almost a decade, but whenever they appeared at the big dance they became shrinking violets.
This team will have its hands full getting to the postseason. It opens Friday at West Virginia and plays several other toughies - defending national champion Connecticut, Maryland and Georgia - before even getting into the Big Ten, where the Buckeyes finished eighth a year ago.
"(The non-conference schedule) is going to really kind of expose us - strengths, weaknesses - early on and give us some direction where we need to get better," McGuff said. "We'll have some tough moments. You can't play a schedule like that without having tough moments but we do have the character and work ethic to fight our way through it."
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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.