Columbus, OH -- Ohio State's national ranking can be traced back to any number of factors: Alexa Hart's ability to block, Kelsey Mitchell's deadly shooting, Ameryst Alston's knack for putting holes in a defense. In yesterday's game against Purdue, 6'2" junior Shayla Cooper proved that she is, without a doubt, another game-changing factor to be remembered in her own right.
Scoring some of the first points of the game, only seconds into the first quarter, Cooper wasted no time in making her introduction to the net. Noted as the Buckeyes' best rebounder, Cooper doesn't often get attention for game-changing shooting, a fact that can only be explained by her own humility.
Her change in attitude yesterday, willing to step away from her supportive role of continual assists and rebounds, and into the spotlight as a shooting queen, came with the help of some of her talented teammates and friends.
"Ameryst gets mad when I pass up those shots when I have the opening, and a lot of the team feeds off of that, so I knew I'd have a lot of shots tonight," said Cooper.
Whatever the reason may have been for Cooper's foray into highlights, she made the most of every possession, despite receiving some calls that many thought were undeserved. She immediately scored three points to start the second quarter, but was taken out shortly after following a personal foul.
Bumped during a pick, this foul joined the list of negative attention Cooper has received from officials as of late, including a shooting foul (earned before she was ever in shooting position), another personal when she was knocked midair, and a technical foul earlier in the week against Northwestern that outraged many as being groundless.
Despite seemingly having a target on her back in place of her #32, Cooper was able to assail Purdue's defense with three consecutive three-point shots, in the first five minutes of the third quarter alone, bringing her total 4/4 of three-point attempts in the game.
Head coach Kevin McGuff respected his forward's change of action, crediting her for choosing good openings and knowing her strengths.
"She played really well, gave us great minutes tonight, was really focused, and when those threes go in it looks really good," said McGuff "Our team did a great job finding her. As long as she's taking good shots, I'm all for it."
The third quarter was Cooper's offensive fairytale of the afternoon, but she didn't forget her usual standby strengths in the fourth. She returned as a pillar of support, catching three offensive rebounds and offering two assists.
The only thing more impressive than seeing Shayla Cooper's three-point spectacle build her credibility as an offensive threat, was seeing the player's humble shrug when pressed for an explanation of her performance.
Either unwilling or unable to bask in the stardom that rained on her following the win, it was clear that her diversified talent came as no surprise to her teammates, her coach, or to Cooper herself.