LOS ANGELES — As Ohio State’s winning streak reached 11 and the Buckeyes reached the Elite Eight, it seems appropriate that they brought their magical tale to southern California, a long jump shot from Hollywood.
They won another game as time expired last night, beating Arizona 73-70 with a three-pointer from sharp-shooting substitute LaQuinton Ross. That wasn’t the end of this wild tale, though, but only the beginning.
Ross found out before the game that the Staples Center locker where he parked his Nikes belonged to, uh — well, let him tell you.
“I found out from one of the guys that works here, it was Kobe Bryant’s locker,” Ross said. “Before we got here, I called dibs on it anyway. But I didn’t know whose it was until he came in and told me.”
If that’s not a little bit of karma — the team who won the game had the Los Angeles Lakers’ locker room, and the star wound up in the locker of one of the NBA’s all-time greats — the fact that Ross even got the shot seemed to say something about the way fate went looking for him.
When last we saw these Buckeyes, point guard Aaron Craft was shaking off several minutes of miscues with a last-second shot in an NCAA Tournament third-round game against Iowa State, hitting a big three-pointer when Ross came up to set a screen and the two defenders switched, leaving Craft being guarded by the opposing center.
That shot was supposed to go to Deshaun Thomas, but Craft took the opportunity that fate handed him. This time, the Arizona defenders didn’t switch, and Ross was waiting alone for a long three.
“They didn’t communicate very well on the screen,” Craft said. “I thought they were going to switch, they had switched just about all the way up to that point. It was going to be the same scenario as it was last week, and this time they gave an opening for Q, and … he did a phenomenal job knocking it down.”
Again, there is even more to this story than that. Even before the shot, Ross was the star of this one, coming off the bench and getting 14 of his 17 points in the second half on 4-of-6 shooting. He also went 5 of 5 at the line, four after halftime.
“LaQuinton Ross is a big part of Ohio State’s success,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “When you start watching game when they insert him in, with Deshaun Thomas and him as the frontcourt, it’s really difficult. They negated our size. … It’s so difficult to deal with them, and big guys in particular.”
There is no denying any of that, but what makes this tale especially intriguing is that the sophomore wouldn’t even have been in a game at that point before the Buckeyes got on their late-season run.
Not only was Ross in the game, he was the teammate that Craft targeted for the last shot in the biggest game of the season. It says something about how far Ross has come, and as a result, how far the Buckeyes might go.
“Q is a scorer, he’s probably one of the better scorers I’ve played with,” Craft said. “He’s been through a lot since he’s been at Ohio State, and he has done a phenomenal job of really jumping on the bandwagon. He came with a lot of hype and wasn’t able to play too much last year, and has done a good job of really filling his role, coming off the bench, bringing some energy, reading the game.”
Just like Bryant, the regular occupant of that locker stall.
“That’s one of my favorite players growing up,” Ross said, “and somebody I model my game after. So ... ”
So the Buckeyes are in the Elite Eight.
Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.