Despite an injury-riddled season, UConn is just where it hoped to be: playing in the second weekend of the women's NCAA tournament and two wins away from appearing in a 15th consecutive Final Four.
But the Huskies will be wise not to overlook No. 3 seed Ohio State on Saturday (4 p.m. ET, ABC) in the Sweet 16.
"Not crazy about our matchup," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Friday. "They're a unique team that poses unique problems, so we've got our hands full tomorrow."
UConn is 6-0 all time against the Buckeyes, though the two teams haven't met since the 2019-20 regular season.
The Buckeyes and their trademark press create steals off 15.1% of opponent possessions, according to CBB Analytics, and it fuels their offense: Ohio State's 22.5 points off turnovers per game ranks in the 99th percentile of teams, while its pace is in the 98th percentile.
"They get out in transition as fast and as aggressively as any team that I've seen," Auriemma said. "Defensively they create a lot of chaotic situations for you if you're not prepared to handle it. So those two things in and of itself -- you might play a team that presses, and certainly we have, or you might play a team that is exceptionally good in transition. But they do both, and they've got their whole team now."
No one has been more important to the Buckeyes than two-time all-Big Ten selection Jacy Sheldon, who has played in just 11 games after missing the majority of the regular season with an injury.
Despite being without her for so long, Ohio State compiled a program-best 19-0 start before dropping seven games in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes lost by 33 to Iowa in the Big Ten tournament final after taking down Big Ten regular-season champion Indiana in the Big Ten semifinals.
UConn has focused on breaking the press as it prepares for Ohio State. The Huskies will have to limit turnovers, which have been an issue, especially when UConn didn't have its full complement on players, including Nika Mühl and Azzi Fudd.
"If we find ways to break [the press], that's when we can go and have easy baskets, go in transition," UConn's Lou Lopez Sénéchal said. "Once we break it, that's when we can have shooters on the perimeter and then also the bigs running and getting easy buckets."
Dorka Juhász, who played at Ohio State for three years before transferring to UConn ahead of the 2021-22 season, said the Ohio State press has become its identity much more since she played there, and credited the Buckeyes' "amazing guard play."
"Jacy Sheldon and Taylor Mikesell is just a duo that's very deadly from anywhere on the court," Juhasz said.
From Ohio State's perspective, strong starts will be key, especially since the Buckeyes have been prone to falling behind by double figures before rallying late. In the first round, James Madison led by 16 before the Buckeyes erased the deficit to win by 14. Having a player like Sheldon back can only help, on both ends of the floor and in clutch moments. She hit the game-winning shot against North Carolina to secure the Buckeyes' berth in the Sweet 16.
"We play much faster transitioning to offense when she's in the game," Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. "She just pushes the ball so aggressively and everybody's got to come with her. And then we're more effective in our press. Her ball pressure, her speed quickness, ability to cover ground, quick hands just puts us at another level."