The Arizona Wildcats gave the Buckeyes a rude welcome to the Sweet 16 to start, but the Buckeyes put together an excellent run to reclaim the lead and put the game away 73-70 on a last second LaQuinton Ross three pointer to advance to the Elite Eight. Despite the rough start, the game developed into a back and forth battle that Arizona very nearly reclaimed. DeShaun Thomas led the Buckeyes with 20 points, and was joined in scoring by LaQuinton Ross (17), Aaron Craft (15), and Sam Thompson (11). Arizona was led by Mark Lyons’ 20 points, along with Solomon Hill’s 16.
Arizona controlled the first half for the balance on the strength of a stifling defensive effort. The work shutting down the OSU offense turned into easy points on the other end for the Cats, often on the fast break, but also against a surprising flat Buckeye defense. Of course, that wasn’t about to stop the Wildcats from building a double digit lead with their three point shooting, mostly while Aaron Craft sat on the bench with 2 fouls. But, Thad Matta wasn’t going to let it stay that way. With six minutes to go in the half, Matta risked putting Craft back into the game to try regain control of the momentum. The strategy worked brilliantly, allowing the Bucks to finish on a 12-6 run to close to within 4 points going into the locker room.
What didn’t help the effort for either team was the ludicrous pace of the game as dictated by the officials. I won’t say that the calls were necessarily wrong, but with both teams in the bonus with just under 10 minutes to go in the first half, there were certainly a lot of them. Only at the very end of the half did the officials seem to loosen up on the controls and allow the players to simply play the game.
The Buckeyes came out of the half ready to play basketball. OSU jumped out on a quick 8-0 run on the strength of their own tough defense to take their first lead since the opening possessions. They were able to continue to push that momentum to a solid 8 point lead while continuing to suppress Arizona’s scoring. Not surprisingly, that wasn’t to last. After building up a 10 point lead, the Buckeyes found themselves taking fire from Solomon Hill of Arizona, who sank 9 straight points and brought the game within four.
At that point the game turned into a back and forth battle. After a nearly 20 minute dry-spell from long range, the hot shooting Wildcats finally found their range again. OSU, however, was not going to back down quietly and matched punch for punch to maintain their razor-thin lead. Solid defensive play over the last 3 minutes allowed the Arizona Wildcats to drag themselves back into a position to strike but found themselves on the receiving end of a dagger three pointer by LaQuinton Ross to send the Buckeyes on to the next round.
1. Energy and effort to end the first half. It took a while for it to show up, but when it did, it came at exactly the right time. With the Bucks down 11, Aaron Craft came back into the game and helped the Bucks crawl back into the game with solid defensive effort and smart offensive play.
2. For the entire first half, Arizona scored 38 points. Through the first 8 minutes and change of the second half, the Wildcats scored only 4. That’s a huge win for the Ohio State defense.
3. LaQuinton Ross may have made a boneheaded play to allow Arizona to tie it up at the end, but he hit a critical shot with only 2 seconds left in the game to put Sean Miller’s team away. You have to feel for Miller, who has had to watch the Buckeyes drop huge last second shots twice in the NCAA Tournament.
1. Perimeter defense. You should know by now that I’m a broken record, especially on this topic. Arizona took advantage of our slow response at the three point line regularly in the early going of this one. Of course, even when the Buckeyes did have a hand in their faces, the Wildcats still sank their long range shots. 71.4% three point shooting (through the first half) is hard to beat no matter what you do to try to stop it.
2. Quick three point shooting. I really only caught DeShaun Thomas doing it, but the rapid three point shot early in the shot clock while closely covered by a defender is totally unacceptable. No matter how worried you are about their defense, you’ve gotta work the passing – that’s particularly true for a team that passes the ball so well!
3. Missed layups. The layup shooting with this team is always an adventure, and we got yet another one today. Everyone seemed to miss a few, including a couple that probably should have just been taken up strong and slammed home. Looking at LaQuinton Ross in particular on that one. If you get that much space going to the rim, you absolutely have to throw it down.
The Buckeyes will play the winner of Wichita State and La Salle in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. You’ll be able to see that game on Saturday at a time to be determined.