Men's basketball: Buckeyes out of their comfort zone
Ohio State players warm up during an open practice at Staples Center in preparation for their game tonight against Arizona.
LOS ANGELES — The last time the Ohio State men’s basketball team played a game three time zones from home, then-coach Jim O’Brien, his voice reduced to a whisper because of a vocal cord nicked during surgery, held a grease board up to express his displeasure with officials.
“This is sad,” it read.
The Buckeyes hope their return engagement yields a happier ending than that night at the University of San Francisco.
In its first game west of the Central time zone in nine seasons under coach Thad Matta, No. 2 seed Ohio State plays No. 6 seed Arizona tonight in an NCAA Tournament West Regional semifinal at Staples Center.
Matta is outside his comfort zone so far from home. He said his aversion to traveling long distances for games began in 2002, his second year at Xavier, when the Preseason NIT sent his team to Stanford for a game that tipped off at 9 p.m. Pacific time — midnight at home. Xavier lost by a point.
“It’s hard to come out and play one game with the (different) time zone,” Matta said yesterday. “You’re off a little bit.”
Knowing that, he and his staff, adjusted the players’ routine somewhat on Tuesday, when the team flew to Los Angeles after a morning practice at the Schottenstein Center.
Dave Egelhoff, director of basketball operations, said he and others consulted assistant coach Chris Jent, who played and coached in the NBA, and Columbus Blue Jackets trainers on how to best handle the time change and jet lag.
“All the advice we got was, ‘Land and keep them active,’ ” Egelhoff said.
“So our thing (Tuesday) was we went out to Santa Monica (by the ocean) and had them walking around and kept them out for 21/2 hours. If we had just sat at the hotel, they’d fall asleep, and then you’re not sleeping at night and it ruins today.”
Hydration also has been stressed.
“Sometimes when you fly, that tends to dehydrate people more, so we try to prehydrate,” athletic trainer Vince O’Brien said. “We made sure the guys had plenty of water and Gatorade 24 hours before we left; they’ve got a bunch of Gatorade in their bags they can drink in their rooms, and on the flight there was plenty of Gatorade. And when we landed, the hotel already had Powerades and water and all that stuff.”
Pickles also could be used in a pinch. Sunday, after forward Deshaun Thomas cramped during a victory over Iowa State, he ate three pickles from a jar supplied to each locker room in University of Dayton Arena.
“There’s something about pickle juice,” O’Brien said. “It’s got salt in it, and that’s what we assume is the reason it helps.”
Guard Sam Thompson said he and others have lobbied Egelhoff to enter tournaments in Maui and the Bahamas. The answer every time is, “in a nutshell, no,” Thompson said.
Arizona coach Sean Miller, who coached with Matta at Miami University and Xavier, said Matta is basically a homebody. But Egelhoff said Matta isn’t averse to long trips as much as he is “looking out for these guys” and pacing them for the long season ahead.
After Duke lost at Ohio State by 22 points last season, coach Mike Krzyzewski said his players were exhausted, having not recovered from playing in Maui the previous week.
“There are great experiences to have out there,” Egelhoff said, “but we’re playing for six months. Let’s not wear ourselves out.”
Perhaps that’s one more reason only 16 teams still are standing in the NCAA Tournament and, for the fourth straight year, Ohio State is one.