COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State's stars showed what they do best Friday. Stanford showed it's going to need a learning curve, as expected. And both teams have just a short time to get ready for a doubleheader Sunday that will highlight the opening weekend of the women's college basketball season.
This capital city of Ohio is where the journey will end March 30-April 1 at the Women's Final Four. Those games will be at Nationwide Arena downtown, as will Sunday's "Countdown to Columbus" contests between No. 1 UConn and No. 10 Stanford (ESPN, 1:30 p.m. ET) and No. 5 Ohio State and No. 9 Louisville (ESPNU, 4 p.m. ET).
Friday, the Buckeyes beat the Cardinal 85-64 at St. John's Arena on Ohio State's campus, with seniors Kelsey Mitchell (30 points) and Stephanie Mavunga (17 points and a school-record 26 rebounds) leading the way.
"We have veteran players with a lot of experience coming back; we should have been ready on Day 1," Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. "And we were. Our kids played really hard. This is a good win for us."
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer has just two starters back from last season's Final Four team, and she said that the Cardinal opening against a top-five team on the road was basically a baptism by fire. It's likely to get even hotter Sunday against the top-ranked Huskies.
"Ohio State has an excellent team, and I think you saw some experienced players playing well for them tonight," VanDerveer said. "We're a young team, and we need to keep improving. We have some people who were at the Final Four, but the leadership of that team is gone. We need some other people to say, 'Hey, this is the level we want to play at.'
"This is a bloody nose. And that might be what it takes to get people fighting."
She means that metaphorically, of course. But with Erica McCall, Karli Samuelson and Briana Roberson gone, there is a lingering void for Stanford that has to be filled.
Senior guard Brittany McPhee, the only Cardinal player who scored in double figures with 24, is one emerging leader. She was 11-of-22, taking almost a third of Stanford's shots. Of the Cardinal's four freshmen, forwards Maya Dodson (seven points, seven rebounds) and Alyssa Jerome (eight points) got the most playing time.
"If your two starting posts go 3-for-13, you're not going to win," VanDerveer said of the struggles of senior Kaylee Johnson and junior Alanna Smith. "Our defense was not aggressive enough, and we missed a bunch of the shots we need to make.
"I think it will be better for our team in the long run to play Ohio State and Connecticut. Instead of playing other people where we might be able to beat them, but are you going to learn and grow?"
Some women who could speak to how they grew while playing for VanDerveer more than three decades ago were on hand Friday. VanDerveer guided Ohio State from 1980-85, going 110-37 and winning Big Ten coach of the year honors twice. Then she took over at Stanford, where she has been ever since.
VanDerveer returned to coach in Columbus just once before Friday, and that was for an exhibition game when she was in charge of the U.S. national team in 1995-96 preparing for the Atlanta Olympics.
So this was her first true "homecoming" in Columbus, and the Buckeye crowd gave her a large ovation before the game as several of her former Ohio State players greeted her on court.
"I have to say it was probably more emotional than I wanted it to be," typically stoic VanDerveer said. "It was fun to see everyone. I had a great experience when I was here."
McGuff has been the head coach of the Buckeyes since 2013-14, and they've made the Sweet 16 the past two seasons. They have greater aspirations for this year -- they'd love to be the hometown team for the Final Four -- and this opening weekend is a good gauge.
"Louisville's got a great team, and they're going to come in here and play really hard," McGuff said of the Cardinals, who got started at home Friday with an 80-40 victory over Southeast Missouri State. "It's another test for us, so we have to quickly turn the page and get ready. This will test our maturity."
The Buckeyes should have plenty of that. There are two redshirt seniors (Mavunga, Linnae Harper), two seniors (Mitchell, Asia Doss) and a redshirt junior (Sierra Calhoun) in Ohio State's starting lineup. Mitchell was 10-of-23 from the field Friday, and despite the 30 points, she thought her performance wasn't as good as it could have been.
"I didn't shoot it well," Mitchell said. "But Steph made it better for all of us."
Mavunga provided the Buckeyes a wealth of second chances, getting half of Ohio State's 28 offensive rebounds as part of her haul of 26 boards. She couldn't recall having that many at any level of basketball, even going back to elementary school.
Mavunga played her first two seasons at North Carolina, sat out a transfer year, and dealt with different injuries that forced her to miss 13 games last season for Ohio State. McGuff has raved about her getting into great shape this past summer, and that was obvious Friday with how well she moved on the court.
"I run faster, I feel like I have more stamina," Mavunga said. "I can endure longer. It just feels better. I feel healthier and more energetic."
Overall, the Buckeyes weren't as crisp offensively as they wanted to be, and McGuff wasn't very pleased with their defense early on. But this is a team with a lot of scoring weapons -- Calhoun and Harper each had 15 points -- and skill on the offensive boards. The Buckeyes took 19 more shots from the field than Stanford did; it's the kind of offense that can just wear out opponents.
"Each player on our team can do something special," Mitchell said. "And I think that showed."