All-American’s size and game tower over Wildcats (Women’s Basketball)

David Morrison

Welsh-Ryan Arena was the site of a 40-minute recess session, with No. 10 Ohio State (10-2, 2-1 Big Ten) playing the role of the bully and Nortwestern (4-9, 0-3) its smaller, weaker victim.

Ohio State center Jessica Davenport, who is four inches taller than anyone in the Wildcats’ starting lineup, dominated in the post, catching, pivoting and shooting her way to 22 points against her undersized opponents in the Buckeyes’ 82-54 win.

Looking like Miami Heat center Shaquille O’Neal, Davenport’s weapon of choice was a quick drop step followed by a seemingly effortless left-handed finish.

“She’s the biggest girl I’ve ever played against in my basketball career,” freshman center Julie Bielawski said. “She’s a big girl. A big , strong girl.”

Bielawski shared the burden of guarding the All-American with sophomore Melissa Miller, who also battled to keep Davenport out of the paint.

“In the Big Ten, all the post players are big and strong , and we’re kind of undersized,” Miller said. “You just got to do your best and hope your teammates have your back.”

With Davenport in the middle, almost all of the Buckeyes’ offense ran through their post player, who faced double- and sometimes triple-teams from the Cats.

Davenport said she looked to her teammates to help counter this tactic.

“I just tried to see where it’s coming from and have my teammates tell me where it’s coming from and try to take my time,” she said. “Either I had a shot or my other teammates had a shot.”

The player who benefitted most from the Cats’ extra attention to Davenport was senior guard Kim Wilburn.

Wilburn, who averaged 7.1 points per game coming into the contest, scored 15 points in 28 minutes off the bench and provided a dose of lightning to Davenport’s thunder.

The senior leader also kept up the Buckeyes’ offensive intensity when Davenport was off the court.

“Since last year, Kim has been a real force coming into games as a change-of-tempo player, and there’s a great value to that,” Ohio State coach Jim Foster said. “Everybody gets hung up on who’s starting the game, and that’s kind of silly. It’s who impacts the game.”

Wilburn and Davenport combined to go 14 for 24 from the field, and Ohio State shot 50.8 percent as a team.

Davenport also helped change the game on the defensive end, blocking three NU shots and recording one steal.

Bielawski said facing Davenport was a valuable learning experience for the young Cats, who have eight underclassmen on their roster.

“I see improvement each and every game we play,” Bielawski said. “A lot of us are growing up, and growing up much faster than we expected.”

Reach David Morrison at [email protected]