COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff wants to make the Buckeyes among the top programs in women's basketball. He knows that means facing the game's very best.
McGuff, in his third season at Ohio State, has his team on a stretch most coaches wouldn't think of doing. It started Friday night with the sixth-ranked Buckeyes falling 88-80 at No. 2 South Carolina.
Next up is the home opener — against three-time defending champion and No. 1 team, Connecticut. Ohio State plays No. 13 Texas A&M on Nov. 28 and heads to Notre Dame for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 2.
To recap, that's three of last season's Final Four teams in three weeks. Good luck.
To McGuff, it's part of the process to being the best. He led the Buckeyes to 24 victories and the second round of the NCAA tournament last season — and is looking for more this year.
"We certainly aspire to be one of the best programs in the country and I think part of that is you've got to go out and you've got to play people," McGuff said. "South Carolina's done that and we're trying to do the same thing."
It wasn't enough against South Carolina (1-0).
A'ja Wilson had 20 points and 14 rebounds, Alaina Coates added 17 points and 13 boards as the Gamecocks outlasted the Buckeyes and All-America guard Kelsey Mitchell's 36 points.
The marquee matchup played out more like an NCAA tournament contest than a season opener. The Buckeyes held a 68-65 lead with 8:47 left on Mitchell's 3-pointer. That's when the Gamecocks' height in Coates and the 6-foot-5 Wilson took control.
The duo scored the Gamecocks' last 16 points and Coates twice blocked Shayla Cooper's close-in shots with Ohio State still in contention the final two minutes.
"I'd like to go inside a lot more than we did," said South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, indicating the potential nightmare ahead for Gamecock opponents.
Mitchell had 15 points for South Carolina.
McGuff said how his team responds in practice before Monday will tell him a lot about their character. If it's "woe is me," he said, the Buckeyes won't have a chance.
"If we can take the things we didn't do well, get better and apply that to Monday night, we can take a stab at the No. 1 team in the country," he said.
According to STATS.com, it's the first time since 2006-07 a team has played the top two ranked teams in consecutive games.
Ameryst Alston had 23 points for Ohio State
Kelsey Mitchell, the country's leading scorer as a freshman last year, was 10-of-24 shooting against South Carolina.
Before the game, South Carolina unveiled banners commemorating its Southeastern Conference regular-season title, its SEC tournament crown and its first-ever Final Four appearance. "Hopefully, we'll have a banner that's bigger than that with the national championship," Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said with a smile.
MITCHELL VS. MITCHELL
Ohio State's Kelsey Mitchell got the better of South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell on the stats sheet in the matchup of two preseason AP All-Americans. Kelsey Mitchell said she'd much rather have the victory than the scoring lead. "We didn't win so I didn't think it was good enough," she said. "I think as a team we need to work on executing on the offensive end as well as rebounding."
Ohio State: The Buckeyes could be one of the most experienced teams in the country. They have all five starters and eight of nine letter winners back from last year's team that won 24 games. Ohio State lost just 32 points from its program-record 2,836 points scored last season.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks led the country in fan support last year, averaging 12,293 people a game. That could even grow this year. South Carolina sold more than 11,000 season tickets to the 18,000-seat Colonial Life Arena. That surpassed the previous high set last year of 8,143 tickets sold. South Carolina drew 16,815 for this opener.
Ohio State plays No. 1 Connecticut at home Monday night
South Carolina continues its opening weekend Sunday against UNC Greensboro