Ohio State 73, Arizona 70: Three-peat for Buckeyes

Ross makes late three-pointer for another dramatic victory

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Jae C. Hong | Associated Press
LaQuinton Ross watches his winning three-pointer with two seconds left splash through the net.

LOS ANGELES — Six players. Three teams. One play.

Same result.

On Sunday, two Iowa State players switched on a screen and left Ohio State guard Aaron Craft isolated on a big man who respected Craft’s driving ability enough that he gave him the room to rise up and make a winning three-pointer with half a second left.

Last night, with Craft again having the ball and the final seconds ticking down on a tie game, two Arizona players chose to stay with him and try to impede his path to the basket. Craft flipped the ball over his head to an open LaQuinton Ross on the left wing.

Ross caught it and, in rhythm, knocked down a three-pointer with two seconds left that gave the Buckeyes a 73-70 victory in an NCAA West Regional semifinal in the Staples Center and put them a win away from their second consecutive trip to the Final Four.

Ohio State, the No. 2 seed in the West, will play for the regional title on Saturday against the winner of last night’s second semifinal between Wichita State and La Salle.

“We like to get the big on the pick-and-roll,” said Ross, whose long-distance shooting has been a factor in the Buckeyes’ 11-game winning streak. “It so happened they messed up on the switch right there, and I was able to knock down the shot.”

Deshaun Thomas scored 20 points to lead Ohio State (29-7). Ross had 17 points, Craft 13 and Sam Thompson 11.

Mark Lyons led Arizona (27-8), the No. 6 seed, with 23 points.

“We switched probably 400 handoffs and ball screens in the game,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “We didn’t switch the last one. Players make plays. Teams make big plays. The pressure of the moment, the Sweet 16, going to the Elite Eight, two guys go on one.”

Ohio State, perhaps feeling the effects of jet lag and the three-hour time change from Columbus, played like zombies on defense early in the game and fell behind by 11 points with Craft sitting on the bench with two fouls.

Coach Thad Matta gambled at that point and put Craft back on the floor with 6:24 remaining, and it proved a master move. Ohio State closed the first half with a 12-5 run, scored the first 10 points of the second and eventually built a 53-43 lead with 11:02 to play.

“I thought we were playing hard (at the start). We just weren’t playing smart,” Matta said. “Give Arizona credit. They came out and were banging threes. We weren’t guarding the ball the way we needed to guard the ball, we weren’t in position (on defense) the way we needed to be in position.

“Lots of times when a team gets rolling, you hug up on your man and say, ‘Look, I’m not going to get scored on.’ We can’t play that way. That was a lot of what we talked about at halftime, don’t be selfish on defense. I thought that was one of the big keys to start the second half, our activity.”

Arizona rallied, though, and Nick Johnson’s layup reduced the Buckeyes’ lead to 67-63 with 2:12 left. Four points by Lyons brought the Wildcats to 70-67 with 1:07 to play.After breaking the press and crossing halfcourt, Ohio State called a timeout to set up a shot but came away empty when Craft’s driving layup with 29 seconds did not go down.

Lyons rushed the ball upcourt, scored on a drive, was fouled by Ross and made the free throw to tie the score at 70 with 21.8 seconds left. Ohio State had a timeout to use on its final possession but chose to play on.

“When I got the foul, I was kind of upset, but my players grabbed me and told me to calm down and worry about the next play,” Ross said. “I was able to go down, run the play and execute.”

bbaptist@dispatch.com

@BBaptistHoops

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