After a sluggish start, Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes rallied in the second half to top Arizona. (Harry How/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES -- The last time buddies Sean Miller and Thad Matta faced off as coaches, it was the second round of the 2007 NCAA tournament, and Miller’s ninth-seed Xavier squad had Matta’s top-seeded Ohio State squad on the ropes before Buckeye Ron Lewis hit a late three-pointer to force overtime. The Buckeyes went on to win that game and eventually reach the NCAA title game, where they lost to Florida. At the Staples Center on Thursday, Matta’s Buckeyes and Miller’s Wildcats produced a thriller worthy of their coaches’ history. Once again, the outcome turned on a late three-pointer, and once again, Matta walked away the victor in his team's narrow 73-70 win.
With the score tied at 70 after Arizona's Mark Lyons made a layup and-one with 21 seconds to go, Buckeyes forward LaQuinton Ross spotted up about 25 feet out beyond the left elbow, took a pass from Aaron Craft and hit a three with 2.1 seconds to go. Solomon Hill’s desperate long-bomb inbounds was intercepted by Lenzelle Smith, Jr., ending the Final Four hopes of Hill and fellow Wildcat seniors Lyons and Kevin Parrom.
For a half, it looked like this was going to be Miller’s night. The Buckeyes’ vaunted team defense allowed Arizona to shoot 50 percent from the field and 63 perent from three in the first half. But down 38-34 at the break, Ohio State started the second in high gear, ripping off a 10-0 run. Ohio State ratcheted up everything: Its offense, its defense, and, most importantly, its rebounding. For the game, the Buckeyes’ outrebounded the Wildcats, one of the best rebounding teams in the country, 32-30. But the most critical second-half improvement came from Ross, who had 14 of his 17 points in the closing period, including a three with six minutes to go that stifled a brief run by the Wildcats.
The Buckeyes had expanded their lead to 10 with 11 minutes to go, but Hill and Lyons weren’t going quietly. Hill, who had 16 points, scored nine straight to cut the lead to four with 8:42 to go, while Lyons scored seven of his 23 points in the last 1:20.