COLUMBUS, OHIO >> West Virginia struggled to stop Ohio State guard Kelsey Mitchell, who eclipsed the 40-point mark for the fourth time this year as the Buckeyes outlasted West Virginia to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
Mitchell scored 45 points — the fourth highest total ever in NCAA play — to lead third-seed Ohio State to an 88-81 win over the No. 6 Mountaineers on Sunday. She was 11 for 32 from the field, including 5 for 12 from beyond the 3-point line.
Constantly battered driving to the basket by a West Virginia team determined to slow her down, Mitchell also made 18 of 22 shots from the foul line as the Ohio State moved to the Sweet 16 round for the eighth time.
"She's obviously very difficult to guard," Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. "She handles the ball and has got speed and quickness like nobody else in college basketball. West Virginia's a great team. They're a really good defensive team, but think we were able to play in transition and just play with enough spacing to give her opportunities to drive the ball."
As the game wound down, the only one who could stop Mitchell was Mitchell herself, as she managed to miss 11 consecutive shots. She was just 5-for-20 from the field in the second half, including missing 10 of 11 in the fourth quarter.
"Just a little fatigue settled in," Mitchell said. "(I) lost a little focus as far as keeping my eye on the glass and finishing the easy baskets. I think my teammates did a good job of picking me up, though."
Forward Shayla Cooper added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Buckeyes, who will play either Arizona State or Tennessee on Friday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Despite Mitchell's explosion, the determined — and larger — Mountaineers kept it from getting out of hand, out-rebounding the Buckeyes 46-37 and scoring 36 points in the paint. Bria Holmes led West Virginia with 21 points, Tynice Martin had 16 points and 10 rebounds while Teana Muldrow added 15 points.
The Buckeyes' defense forced 27 West Virginia turnovers, leading to 40 of their points. Ohio State turned the ball over just nine times.
"I feel like we were just rushing some things, and we should have slowed down," Holmes said. "The momentum of the game was up."
The game was knotted at 39 at the end of the first half, with Mitchell picking up 20 points. The Buckeyes led by five heading into the fourth quarter. With Mitchell in a scoring drought, the Mountaineers were only three points behind with 27 seconds left in the game, but they were forced to foul, and Ohio State pulled away to finish it.
Ohio State: Guard Ameryst Alston, who missed the tournament's opening game with a wrist injury, saw significant playing time, but the Buckeyes second-leading scorer contributed only six points. McGuff said her presence was felt. "She did a fantastic job, and I don't know if we win today if we don't have her in there," he said.
West Virginia: West Virginia shot 48 percent from the field, compared with the Buckeyes' 37 percent. ...The Mountaineers got 46 of their points from their bench....Coach Mike Carey said Mitchell's aggressiveness made her difficult to guard without fouling. "She puts a lot of pressure on the referee because she comes right at you," he said. "I don't know what you're supposed to do as a defensive player."
Ohio State: Plays winner of Arizona State-Tennessee game on Friday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
West Virginia: Season ends.