LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Fifth-seeded Ohio State's afternoon was an easy one only in comparison to what preceded it in Memorial Coliseum. But with a 70-63 win against No. 12 Western Kentucky, the Buckeyes move on to face fourth-seeded Kentucky in the second round Sunday.
Not surprisingly, Kelsey Mitchell shared the Ohio State lead in scoring. More surprisingly, she totaled a modest (by her standards) 15 points.
More to follow from Lexington, but here is the view at the final buzzer.
Player of the game: It might seem a strange pick given her 14 missed shots, but one of the highlights of this game was the work of Western Kentucky's Kendall Noble. One of the underrated all-around guards in the bracket, Noble finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds and three steals in her final college game. Sharing the court with Kelsey Mitchell, Noble held up her end of the bargain just fine. Not as fast as Mitchell (which is true of most every other player in the college game), Noble showed off tremendous strength and body control to patiently wait for space and get inside.
How it was won: Kentucky needed its star, Makayla Epps, to score to survive against Belmont. Ohio State managed to move on despite a tough day for Mitchell. Asia Doss stepped up with some good shooting and freshman Tori McCoy scored well inside in foul-plagued minutes. But the win is mostly a credit to a defense that held Western Kentucky to just 29 percent shooting. The Buckeyes didn't give the Lady Toppers the shots to pull off an upset.
Turning point: It felt like a momentum settler when Noble drove left, spun and beat the shot clock to cut her team's deficit to 32-30 with a minute to play in the second quarter. It did mark the beginning of a critical sequence, but not in the way that might have been expected. Barely 10 seconds later, Mitchell pulled up from the top of the key and hit a 3-pointer, her first field goal after 19 minutes of frustration. Then Doss and Linnae Harper teamed up to trap Noble, steal the ball and combine for a layup going the other way.
Instead of another surprise score at halftime in Lexington, Ohio State took its largest lead into the break. Much like the opening game between Kentucky and Belmont, that surge didn't end things -- Western Kentucky kept coming at the Buckeyes. But the cushion set up how the rest of the game would unfold, with the underdog chasing the scoreboard.
X factors: Shayla Cooper and Alexa Hart. Still without Stephanie Mavunga -- she was on the bench but not in uniform as a result of an injury sustained in February -- Ohio State didn't exactly have a sustained post presence. But it seemed that every time you looked at a big moment, Hart was blocking a shot or Cooper was getting a rebound.
Stat of the game: Ohio State's 28 bench points. Even with injuries, it's a deep group.
What's next: While we now know the Sweet 16 will include either Mitchell or Epps, we always knew it would take place without one of the two biggest stars in the game at the moment.
When Mitchell was a freshman, Ohio State lost to North Carolina 86-84 on the ACC team's home court in the second round. Last year, Ohio State turned home-court advantage into an 88-81 win against West Virginia in the second round.
It was going to be a second-round reunion either way once Kentucky advanced in Friday's first game, as both Ohio State and Western Kentucky featured players who originally attended the SEC school. But it's Harper who will share the court with former teammates.