Kiyanna Black said Ohio treats every game as if it’s the biggest one of the season.
But come Saturday afternoon, it will truly be the biggest game of the year.
At that time, Ohio will tipoff with the Akron Zips in Akron.
In terms of winning the Mid-American Conference East Division, Ohio has already cemented its status. Not that it was in jeopardy, but the team also became the first to qualify for a spot at the conference tournament in Cleveland next month.
Yet the matchup with Akron will have two important main storylines for Ohio.
For starters, the Zips are the only team remaining in the regular season for the Bobcats with a winning record in conference play. The Bobcats still have a five-game lead over the Zips with five games remaining.
More importantly though, an Ohio win puts the team one game closer to achieving consecutive MAC regular season championships and the No. 1 seed in Cleveland.
Currently, Ohio has a one-game lead in the conference standings.
"It’s nice to be in this position this late into the season,” coach Bob Boldon said.
That is a recognizable scenario for Boldon and the Bobcats.
Ohio traveled to Akron last year with a one-game lead in conference play, similar to this season. Only last year, Ohio entered the game coming off a loss to Eastern Michigan, which it eventually beat in the MAC Championship game.
At the time, Boldon openly stated his uncertainty about the team’s future.
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But then Black scored a season-high 31 points in 32 minutes in a 75-55 Ohio win, and the team remained unbeaten to close the season.
After Wednesday night’s win over Miami, Boldon said he had the same feelings about the team’s future after losing to Buffalo this season, but kept the thoughts to himself.
And keeping with the 2014-15 model, the Bobcats responded to the loss by playing their best basketball of the year the past three games.
“Last year’s team was last year’s team, and this team has a new identity,” Black said regarding the similar circumstances. “We know we have talent, we know we have skill players, but none of that matters if we don’t play hard every night.”
In a sense, Ohio just needs to be itself.
Akron will present challenges, namely Anita Brown, who leads the conference in scoring with 21.4 points per game.
Technically both the Bobcats and the Zips have the same offensive output — 71.5 points per game — but Ohio has the best defense in the MAC, and Akron has the third-worst.
"It’s nice being able to control your own success,” Black, a senior guard, said. “It feels good not having to worry about who’s losing, who’s winning. If we take care of business every night, none of that matters.”