Amani Burke calls it tunnel vision. Bob Boldon calls it focus.
Whatever it is, the Bobcats are going to need all of it to keep their season alive.
Ohio (30-5) plays at Northwestern (19-14) in the quarterfinal (aka regional final) round of the 2019 Women’s NIT Tournament on Saturday night. Tip off is set for 7 p.m. ET from Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Illinois.
It’s a rapid-fire turnaround for the Bobcats. Ohio vanquished Western Kentucky in the third round on Thursday night in the Convo. Less than 12 hours later, the Bobcats were flying commercial to Chicago. Less than 48 hours after the win, Ohio will be fighting again to keep its season alive.
The turnaround is the shortest facing any team in the 2019 WNIT so far, and accentuated with a travel day nonetheless. Northwestern overcame an 18-point deficit to win at West Virginia on Tuesday.
The Wildcats will have the edge in that regard and Ohio knows it.
“It’s my job to get them ready to play at Northwestern on Saturday,” said Ohio head coach Bob Boldon on Thursday. “If we lose to Northwestern, then we lose to Northwestern. But it can’t be…we’re not going to lose because we were so busy patting ourselves on the back today and tomorrow.
“If we lose, it’ll be because they’re a better team,” he continued. “Maybe they are. We’re going to go in there and find out.”
Ohio is already engaged in the longest postseason in program history. The Bobcats’ 30 wins are the most for any basketball team in school history. It’s a lot to be proud of, but Boldon doesn’t want anyone thinking about that stuff until the year is actually over.
That’s where the ‘tunnel vision’ can help. The Bobcats have excelled this year at looking forward, and not back. Every time Ohio has been stymied, it has responded the way Boldon would’ve hoped.
The Bobcats are facing another tough task, but it’s just another game, Burke said.
“He doesn’t let us dwell on one win,” Burke said Thursday, referring to Boldon. “It’s always talking about the next thing and the next move forward.
“He don’t have no emotion with that,” added sophomore guard Cece Hooks.
“Yeah, we kind of forget about the wins, we’re thinking about the next one,” Burke said.
It should help Ohio that the challenge on deck is similar to the one it faced in the last two rounds of the WNIT. Northwestern will play a slow-down pace, wins with its defense, and will try to ply a productive post player and a creative shot-making guard into offensive success.
The Wildcats blew out Dayton in their WNIT opener (74-51), then won a 54-47 slugfest at Toledo, and overcame an 18-point deficit to win at West Virginia (56-54) on Wednesday.
Northwestern hasn’t allowed an opponent to shoot higher 36 percent in any of the three games in the tournament, or score more than 54 points. The Wildcats gave up just 59.4 points during the regular season for long-time head coach Joe McKeown (670 career wins), and are holding opponents to just 37.7 percent shooting (31.1 from 3-point range) for the season.
Offensively, sophomore guard Lindsey Pulliam has averaged 19.3 points per game in the tournament and 16.5 for the season. She buried the jumper with 42 seconds left to provide the winning edge at WVU.
But the Wildcats also have a pair of 6-foot-2 forwards that pose problems for the undersized Bobcats. Ohio has no rotation player taller than 5-foot-11.
Senior Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah is averaging 11.3 points and 13.3 rebounds per game in the tournament. Junior Abi Scheid averaged 10.2 points in the regular season.
The Wildcats won’t take many 3s, and use a lot of the shot clock on each possession. They’ll hope to use a perceived advantage in the paint and on the glass to grind Ohio down.
In short, it’s the same plan that Middle Tennessee State and Western Kentucky tried on the Bobcats in the last two games.
Ohio won’t have much in the way of prep time, but Boldon said it won’t matter.
“I mean it’s the same thing right?” he said. “They’re going to have a big post player bigger than our post player.
“We’re going to try to not let her get it, and they’re going to try to let her get it,” Boldon continued. “They’re going to ball screen. They’re going to rebound the (expletive) out of the ball. We’re going to try to box them out.”
Hooks has been as effective as any player in the tournament — 20.0 ppg with 3.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 3.7 steals per game — and Ohio’s defense has risen to the challenge of close, grind-it-out games in the last two rounds.
“We have different ways of just winning,” Burke said. “If it’s not our offense, it’s our defense. And vice-versa.”
Ohio has needed it. The Bobcats shot better than 36 percent from 3-point range this season and averaged nearly 10 made 3-pointers per game. But in the WNIT, Ohio has shot just 30.8 percent from the arc (20 of 65) and is making less than seven per game.
The ‘Cats would love to recapture some of that magic at Northwestern. Ohio is 11-1 in true road games this season, and the Wildcats are 11-5 at home.
“Just feed off each other’s energy. When we’re hype, we hype each other up, it’s fun,” Hooks said. “We actually enjoy playing and we play harder.
“We just have to build our own energy.”
The Ohio-Northwestern winner will face either James Madison (28-5) or Georgetown (19-15) in the national semifinal round in the middle of next week. The Bobcats hosted games in the first three rounds of the tournament, and could host again if they continue to move forward.
2019 Women’s National Invitational Tournament
Regional semifinals, March 27-29
Northwestern 56, West Virginia 54
Ohio 68, Western Kentucky 60
TCU 82, Arkansas 78
Cincinnati 72, Butler 65
Arizona 68, Idaho 60
Wyoming 61, Pepperdine 60
James Madison 70, Virginia Tech 66
Georgetown 53, Providence 46
Regional finals (quarterfinal round)
Ohio (30-5, RPI 34) at Northwestern (19-14, 116), Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
Georgetown (19-15, 70) at James Madison (28-5, 36), Sunday 2 p.m.
Cincinnati (24-10, 75) at TCU (23-10, 58), Sunday 2 p.m.
Wyoming (25-8, 64) at Arizona (20-13, 81), Sunday 5 p.m.
National semifinals, April 3-4
National championship, Saturday, April 6, 3 p.m.