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Like '09, Lavender tries to block Bulldogs' path

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The game will be played on a neutral court in Pittsburgh, not on Ohio State's home floor in Columbus.

Some of the players are different, others find themselves playing more important roles. One prominent player who was a starter a year ago now is one of the nation's best reserves.

Regardless, Mississippi State knows that to beat Ohio State in the NCAA women's tournament — something the Lady Bulldogs couldn't do last season — they must control game-changing inside player Jantel Lavender.

They couldn't do that a year ago, and it largely explains why Mississippi State was ousted in the second round. Or the same round in which the teams will meet on Tuesday night, with a trip to the round of 16 awaiting the winner.

"I don't remember too much about it," Mississippi State scoring leader Alexis Rack said Monday, referring to Ohio State's 64-58 victory.

Or maybe she simply preferred to forget about it. Especially the final 6 minutes, 43 seconds.

The Lady Bulldogs led 58-54, only to go scoreless the rest of the game. Lavender finished with 20 points as the Buckeyes went on a game-ending 10-0 run to win it.

Maybe this is a positive sign for the Lady Bulldogs. They were in a reverse situation Sunday against Middle Tennessee State, trailing by as many as 15 points, before a game-ending 13-0 run during the final 4½ minutes gave them a 68-64 victory.

Lesson learned?

"We didn't finish the (Ohio State) game, obviously, like we wanted to," guard Mary Kathryn Govero said. "We didn't score for a while there at the end. But it let us know we can play with this team — but their team isn't everybody it was last year, and we're both different."

Lavender is the same tough-to-move, tough-to-defend center, as evidenced by the three-time Big Ten Conference player of the year's 23 points and 16 rebounds during a 93-59 rout of St. Francis, Pa., on Sunday.

"She is one of those players that is capable of separating herself from good players to great players," Buckeyes coach Jim Foster said. "She has the ability to play when it's not all there."

Everything the second-seeded Buckeyes (31-4) and seventh-seeded Lady Bulldogs (20-12) wanted all season remains available for Tuesday's night's winner, which advances to next weekend's Dayton regional.

But with no home-court advantage like a year ago, and the Lady Bulldogs intent on getting past the second round this time, the Buckeyes understand this game probably won't be anything like the St. Francis game.

"I expect them to come out with a lot of fire, and a feeling of getting revenge on us," said Lavender, who averages 21 points and 10 rebounds. "They're going to come in with the thought they can contend with us. They're going to be really juiced up and wanting to go to the Sweet 16 because it's the same game, the same situation as last year."

The Lady Bulldogs face the challenge of trying to control one of the nation's best players for the second successive game.

On Sunday, it was national scoring leader Alysha Clark of Middle Tennessee State. They held her to 17 points, only the second time in Clark's final 10 games she scored fewer than 30 points.

Now it's Lavender, who is 6 inches taller than Clark and presents a more imposing physical matchup. Mississippi State used the 6-5 Chanel Mokango primarily on Clark, and she'll probably go against Lavender, too.

"Lavender is just, well, really big," Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. "They know where she is and they get the ball to her."

Ohio State may bring 5-8 Shavelle Little off the bench to defend against the 5-7 Rack, who scored 21 points Sunday despite not getting her first basket until early in the second half.

Little, the Big Ten defensive player of the year, will be needed to slow the Lady Bulldogs' quick backcourt.

"Since last year, we've tightened up on defense," Little said.