COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A lot of what happens in women's basketball in the glare of March starts in the long, cold days of mid-February.
That's when teams try to put some gloss on their tournament resumes.Nobody knows that better than the coaches at No. 24 Michigan State and No. 4 Ohio State, who have a lot riding on their Sunday showdown."This is the time of year when players really step up and take even more ownership of what they want to do with their team," Spartans coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "There's sort of an interesting thing that occurs at the end of February heading into March. There's a little bit of an attitude that emanates from the players more, in terms of them recognizing the opportunities ahead."Ohio State (24-1, 13-0) can clinch a share of the Big Ten title while extending several streaks. The Buckeyes have won their last 17 games, are unbeaten in their last 27 at home and have won their last 30 games against Big Ten teams.Michigan State (20-6, 11-2) can pull within a game of the Buckeyes heading into the final full week of play. Having already beaten No. 16 Purdue, the Spartans could steal the No. 2 seeding in the Big Ten tournament while improving their stature in the eyes of the NCAA selection committee.The Buckeyes showed some resiliency when they trailed late in the game at Minnesota on Feb. 8. Having already lost second-leading scorer Brandie Hoskins to a torn Achilles' tendon, they hung around long enough to pull out a 70-67 win."Minnesota is so young and had the lead and they're playing with enthusiasm and playing hard -- but we just methodically did what we needed to do," Ohio State coach Jim Foster said.The Buckeyes have won twice since losing Hoskins, who sustained the same injury on the other leg in the waning moments of Ohio State's loss in the second round of the NCAA tournament last year.Losing Hoskins was big, but the Buckeyes do have some options."I firmly believe this: someone's misfortune is someone else's opportunity," Foster said. "That's usually the way the world works. If someone gets fired from a job, someone else gets the job. If someone gets a promotion, someone gets a chance. From a basketball perspective, we structured a lot of things around Brandie's strengths. At the beginning of the season, this might have been something that really knocked us for a loop. Now it's somebody else's opportunity to show what they can do."Hoskins' absence has given more minutes to Stephanie Blanton, a solid 3-point shooter and defender, and Ashlee Trebilcock, a former child actor (E.R., Saved By the Bell) who had a career-high 15 points on 4-for-4 shooting behind the arc in Thursday night's 83-57 win over Wisconsin.In the middle, two-time All-American and Big Ten player of the year Jessica Davenport makes any lineup changes a little easier to handle while averaging a conference-best 19 points."In some ways I have to be more aggressive on offense," Davenport said of the void left by the loss of Hoskins. "Somebody has to make up those points. Other than being more vocal, though, I don't think my role has to change. My teammates still look at me to be a leader on the court and off the court."McCallie said it's hard to determine how different the Buckeyes are without Hoskins."I think they'll just evolve from it," she said. "It's very disappointing and sad what happened to Brandie, because she is a great, great player. But they have other players, too."