By Eric Olson
AP Sports Writer
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — It’s difficult to imagine Ohio State leaning on Kelsey Mitchell more than it already has this season.
Given the Buckeyes’ health situation, they really could use another big game from the high-scoring guard against Tennessee.
Coach Kevin McGuff announced Thursday that starting guard Cait Craft won’t play in the NCAA Sioux Falls Regional semifinal Friday night after breaking her left wrist in practice Tuesday. Craft’s injury follows the sprained wrist that has limited guard Ameryst Alston for two weeks.
The third-seeded Buckeyes (26-7) have used a seven-player rotation most of the season, and McGuff said he wasn’t certain how he would manage his lineup.
Alston, an All-Big Ten guard who averages 18.2 points, scored six in 21 minutes against West Virginia on Sunday. That was after she sat out the NCAA opener against Buffalo. Alston expects to be more effective against the seventh-seeded Lady Vols (21-13).
“I’m making progress every day and feeling a lot better,” she said.
Mitchell, the nation’s third-leading scorer at 26.3 points a game, is coming off a 45-point performance against West Virginia. It was the most points by a player in an NCAA Tournament game in five years and marked the third time in five games that Mitchell had scored at least 43.
The Lady Vols plan to throw different defensive looks at Mitchell and guard her “by committee,” coach Holly Warlick said.
“If she gets close to the bench, I’m going to maybe trip her, I’m not sure,” she said, smiling. “No, I watched her in high school. She’s got a great gift. She knows the game. The ball is a part of her hand. I haven’t seen too many, male or female, come around like her.”
Mitchell is shooting 40.3 percent on 3-pointers and her 124 3s are second most in the country.
“We’re probably going to start out in a zone defense because Kelsey Mitchell is their main threat,” guard Andraya Carter said.
“Obviously she has a ton of offensive power. They have a dribble-drive. They have threats from other angles as well. We’re going to play zone and really extend out on her. We really have to focus on shutting her down.”
The 5-foot-8 Craft averages only 4.6 points, but her absence will be significant. She’s perhaps the Buckeyes’ most versatile player, capable of scoring from the perimeter and defending much bigger players.
Several other Ohio State players have been slowed by injuries. Mitchell said she’s ready to pick up the slack.
“Make sure you focus on what the team needs,” she said. “Try to move on, turn the page, try to just play hard, go out as hard as you can regardless of the situation.”
Here are some things to know about Tennessee-Ohio State:
PERIMETER PROBLEMS: Tennessee’s 25.3 percent shooting from 3-point range ranks 331st out of 344 teams. The Lady Vols caught a break when second-seeded Arizona State stuck with its usual man-to-man defense instead of going with a zone in the second round. Tennessee shot 52 percent overall in the 75-64 upset and only attempted four 3-pointers.
“You know, I hope Ohio State watched Arizona State and takes that lead. I hope they play us man,” Warlick said.
NEED FOR SPEED: Ohio State loves to pressure opponents and play fast, and that won’t change against a Tennessee team that has a size advantage. The Buckeyes are third in the nation in scoring at 86.8 points a game, and they converted West Virginia’s 27 turnovers into 40 points Sunday.
LADY VOLS HEALTHY: Unlike Ohio State, Tennessee is as healthy as it’s been all season. Jaime Nared missed the first nine games because of a broken hand, Diamond DeShields has been bothered by a nagging leg injury, and there was a run of ankle injuries.
“Right now we’re healthy and we’ve got a strong bench,” Warlick said. “That helps. It helps down the line if you want to press, do a lot of things. It has helped us the last month.”
MOVING ON? A win would send Ohio State to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1993. Tennessee is trying to make a regional final for the fifth time in six years.
PROGRAM PRESSURE: Making the Sweet 16 is a cause for celebration at most schools. At Tennessee, the achievement barely takes the edge off what was the worst regular season in a program whose history includes eight national titles and 18 Final Four appearances.
“When you decide to come to the University of Tennessee, you know the expectations,” Bashaara Graves said. “Our goal is always to get to a Final Four or win a national championship. You know that coming in. If this is where you want to go, this is our goal. That pressure is going to be on you.”