Ohio State seeking March Madness momentum in opener against Maine. Richmond gets rematch with Duke

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State enters the women's NCAA Tournament in familiar territory — literally and figuratively.

The Buckeyes return to March Madness after an exhilarating run to the Elite Eight a year ago while managing a slew of injuries. And for a second year, Ohio State will play its opening game on its own floor in front of a partisan crowd at Value City Arena.

The home-court advantage was just that last year, as the Buckeyes won both their tournament games in Columbus to reach the Sweet 16.

Ohio State opens the regional at noon Friday as the No. 2 seed against 15th-seeded Maine (23-9), the champions of the America East conference seeking its first tournament win in 25 years.

“I think this year going into it is excitement that we have a healthy team right now and can’t wait to see what we can do and how far we can go,” Ohio State guard Rikki Harris said.

Ohio State (25-5) won the Big Ten regular season title, but the accomplishment was overshadowed by the intense attention focused on Iowa's generational superstar Caitlin Clark, the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history.

But in the Big Ten tournament, the top-seeded Buckeyes were one-and-done, losing to No. 8 seed Maryland 82-61. Iowa went on to win it all.

Coach Kevin McGuff thought the players needed a jolt. He drove them hard on the practice court to try to reignite the fire that produced 15 straight wins in January and February, including an overtime win over Clark and the Hawkeyes Jan. 21.

“I think just we were so dreadful versus Maryland that I just wanted to remind them that this is kind of who we are and what makes us good, and just the intensity, the focus, the passion that we play with,” said the Big Ten coach of the year. “And they responded. They did. They know the things that make us good.”

Guard Jacy Sheldon (18 ppg) and forward Cotie McMahon (14.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg) are the sparkplugs for Ohio State, but every player in McGuff's rotation is capable of big games.

"The press that Ohio State is playing is like very, like extraordinary, so I don’t think we’ve seen that," said guard Anne Simon, who leads the Black Bears in scoring with 19.2 points per game. "Like we’ve seen presses from other teams, but not quite the press that Ohio State has."

McGuff promised aggression from the Buckeyes.

"I think this time of year it’s important to get off to a good start, try to impose your will on the game early on," he said. “I think it plays to our style, with our transition and our full-court pressing.”

FAMILIAR FOES

Richmond didn't fare well against Duke in the season opener for both teams back in November. Blue Devils guard Reigan Richardson scored 28 on the way to routing the Spiders 83-53.

That was then. Richmond (29-5) would go on win the Atlantic 10 regular-season title and sweep through the conference tournament, earning a 10th seed in the NCAA Tournament and drawing — who else? — the seventh-seeded Duke Blue Devils (20-11) in the opening round Friday afternoon in Columbus.

“They’re a super athletic team, but that was our first game of the season,” Richmond forward Addie Budnik said. “We’ve grown a ton as a team, and they have, as well, so it’s definitely going to be a different feel, a different matchup out there. But we’re just excited to be able to compete, especially on such a large stage.”

Duke coach Kara Lawson talked to her players specifically about not taking much from that rout of the Spiders way back on Nov. 1.

“The thing that’s important for us is not to concern ourselves with the fact that we won the first game and think that that’s a given, that we’ll do it again,” Lawson said. “That’s not how basketball works. You start over at the next game, and you have to be ready to play We’ve talked a lot about coming into this with as fresh an approach as we can so that we are locked in on the things we need to do to give ourselves a chance to win this game.”

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness