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Davenport is OSU's center of attention



Published: Thu, January 20, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Columbus native is averaging 17.7 points and eight rebounds per game.

COLUMBUS (AP) -- Every offensive possession by Ohio State begins the exact same way: With a glance from a ballhandler who counts how many defenders are surrounding Jessica Davenport.

Davenport, a 6-foot-4 center with one of the biggest wingspans in the game, is always option No. 1 for No. 3 Ohio State.

The Buckeyes guards don't dribble, the wings don't cut and the ball isn't passed until there is a flash of recognition for where Davenport is and what she faces.

"When you've got a player like Jess, you want to get her the ball. She's one of the top players in the country," shooting guard Caity Matter said. "If you get the ball in to her, they have to do a couple of things. They can either double-team her, and if they do that then somebody else is going to be wide open, or they can not double her, and if that's the case she's going to score a bucket."

Fire burns within

The Columbus native, last year's freshman of the year in the Big Ten, is averaging 17.7 points and 8 rebounds while hitting 58 percent of her shots from the field and 81 percent of her free throws.

Even when she doesn't shoot, she's a terrific passer who can find an open teammate for a wide-open jumper.

Coach Jim Foster likens Davenport's approach to that of a certain Boston Celtics legend.

"Given that's she's left-handed and given that she's a bit of a dominant player, there's a little bit of Bill Russell in her, if you're old enough to understand who that is," Foster said. "He was more or less a player who didn't show a lot of emotion and played with a passion and a fire that won a lot a championships.

"I think Jess pays attention and listens and is her own worst critic at times, and realizes there's a heck of a lot more that she can accomplish in the game if she continues to get better."

Davenport deflects any praise directed her way as if she's swatting away a shot. She recognizes that unless the outside shooters can hit 3s, defenses will smother her inside.

Playing to their strength

"My teammates look for me and I look for them," she said. "I just try to run the floor hard and they'll find me. If not, we'll get into our offense. Ball reversals are big for us because they're doubling. The other team has to scramble to try to get into position when we move the ball. It's pretty hard to stop one person because we have a lot of weapons."

Foster said Ohio State's offense isn't a secret.

"We're an inside-outside team. Today, there's not many of them," he said.

The reason Ohio State plays that style is because of a dominant center. Davenport was selected on Monday as the Big Ten's player of the week for the second time in three weeks.

In Sunday's 52-50 win over No. 4 Rutgers, Davenport had 22 points and seven rebounds. She even popped outside and hit the first 3-pointer of her career.

"It means you'd better not leave her unguarded," Foster said. "If she can shoot it, why wouldn't you let her?"




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