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March 28, 2013
The last time Sean Miller faced Ohio State and good friend Thad Matta in the NCAA tournament looked a lot like Thursday's rematch in the NCAA West Regional semifinal.
Ohio State erased an 11-point deficit and LaQuinton Ross's game-winning 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left gave the Buckeyes a 73-70 win over Arizona and a trip to the Elite Eight.
"It feels great, man," said Ross, who scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half - and all in the final eight minutes for second-seeded OSU. "I think this is what every player grows up looking at on TV, wanting to hit that big shot for an NCAA tournament team. It just feels great right now."
While at Xavier, Miller's Musketeers were zapped after Ron Lewis' 3 forced overtime and led to a 78-71 second-round win for the Buckeyes in 2007.
This time the sharpshooter was Ross, who made 5 of 8 shots off the bench. The Buckeyes (29-7) will face No. 9 Wichita State on Saturday for the right to advance to the Final Four in Atlanta.
OSU will be seeking its second consecutive trip to the national semifinals.
"That was about as high‑powered college basketball game as I've been a part of," Matta said.
After a monster performance from Deshaun Thomas in the opening half, Ross was the hot hand for OSU down the stretch.
After a Mark Lyons drive and continuation tied the game at 70 with 21.8 seconds to play, the Buckeyes were in an eerily similar position to the previous round's nail-biter against Iowa State. But instead of Aaron Craft delivering the dagger, the point guard was double-teamed by Grant Jerrett and found the sophomore reserve on the left wing for the deep jump shot off a pick-and-pop.
"We switched probably 400 handoffs and ball screens in the game," Miller said. "We didn't switch the last one. That's the other part. Players make big plays. Teams make big plays. The pressure of the moment, the Sweet 16, going to the Elite Eight, two guys go on one.
"Whether [Ross] made the shot or not, I think we all live with it when it's challenged and we do what we're supposed to do. But part of the reason he had such a great look at the end there was two guys went with the ball, when, in reality, we've switched every single handoff and ball screen from the opening tip to that one right there."
Following a lengthy stoppage immediately after Ross' shot, No. 6 Arizona (27-8) was unable to get off another attempt as the inbounds pass was stolen by Craft.
OSU shot just 42.3 percent but converted 7 of 13 from beyond the arc. The Buckeyes also converted 22 of 26 free throws - 16 of 19 in the second half - to offset the Wildcats' 18-of-20 effort from the foul line.
Thomas finished with 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting and Craft added 13 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Lyons scored 23 to pace the 'Cats, who shot below 40 percent and connected on just 1 of 10 3-pointers after halftime. Solomon Hill chipped in 16 and led a key second-half stretch in the final game of his collegiate career.
"We gave up the run in the second half, but we put ourself in a situation to tie it up," said Hill, who made 7 of 11 shots. "Mark had to layup the and-one and made the free throw, and we put ourselves in position to possibly try to win the game. They just made more plays than we did."
Leading by just four at the half despite making five 3-pointers and shooting better than 50 percent, the Wildcats came out of the locker room in an offensive funk. UA missed its first three attempts - all from beyond the arc - and watched OSU carve up its defense for a quick 6-0 spurt to tie the game at 38.
Dating back to the end of the first half, the Buckeyes used a 22-5 run to pull ahead by six with 15:04 to play. A Brandon Ashley baseline jump shot then ended UA's scoreless drought that lasted more than seven minutes.
"We really were on our heels through, I would guess, maybe the first 10 minutes of the second half, maybe the first eight minutes," Miller said. "The fact that I called as many timeouts as I did, I felt like our team was reeling."
A big part of the lull was the defensive adjustment on Lyons. After scoring 10 in the first nine minutes of the game, the 6-1 guard was shut out for the next 20 minutes.
Trailing by 10, the Wildcats took advantage of Craft's three fouls at the 11:15 mark. Hill scored nine consecutive UA points to pull within 56-52 with 8:42 left. A little more than two minutes later, Lyons then snapped out of his slump with a 3-pointer to trim the deficit to three and set the stage for the finish.
Lyons, who became the first player to appear in back-to-back Sweet 16s with different programs, said he had "no regrets" about his final contest outside of not advancing any further in his career.
"I've been here so many times and I just feel like I can't get over that hump," said Lyons, who made 6 of 12 shots and 9 of 10 free throws. "But like he said, I've got no regrets. I played a with a great bunch of guys this whole year who had a lot of faith in me, and I'm just happy they accepted me to come into their program and try to help them win."
A physical game from the tip, Arizona jumped out to an early 10-4 lead with some early success beyond the arc.
After a 7-2 OSU run cut the deficit to a point, the 'Cats made four consecutive baskets to push the advantage to 22-15 on Lyons' layup and continuation with 10:56 remaining. UA then extended the lead to nine points after Kevin Parrom's steal led to a fastbreak dunk for Nick Johnson.
Arizona's aggressiveness continued as Johnson's 3-pointer put the lead at 31-20 with seven minutes left in the half.
But the Buckeyes secured eight offensive rebounds and received 16 first-half points from Thomas to keep the game close.
"We don't give up. We show heart," Thomas said. "We stand together as a team, and we fight. We fight together, and it's just all toughness with me."
OSU cut the lead back down to five on Sam Thompson's corner 3, but Hill responded with his own. The teams combined to make 9 of 16 shots from long range in the first 20 minutes.
The Buckeyes then scored three the old-fashioned way after Ross was fouled on a layup with 3:27 remaining.
OSU, which forced seven turnovers before the break, closed the half on a 12-5 run and trailed just 38-34 despite shooting 40 percent.
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor
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