The big shot Buckeyes are starting to look like a team of destiny in this NCAA Tournament.
Four days after Aaron Craft hit a last-second three to beat Iowa State in a third-round game in Dayton, Craft dished to emerging sophomore teammate LaQuinton Ross as time was running down against Arizona.
Ross, whose star is getting brighter and brighter with each passing day, calmly accepted the pass and hit a game-winning three of his own with 2.1 seconds left. That shot broke the game’s last tie and lifted the second-seeded Buckeyes to a dramatic 73-70 win over the sixth-seeded Wildcats in an NCAA West Region semifinal before 18,232 Thursday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
“I have to credit my coaches for the play,” Ross said. “It was similar to the play we ran (against Iowa State). We like to get the big to pick‑and‑roll. It so happened they messed up on the switch right there, and I was able to knock down the shot.”
The Buckeyes (29-7) advance to face No. 9 seed Wichita State (29-8), which defeated No. 13 seed La Salle 72-58 in Thursday's second semifinal game. That championship game will be at 7 p.m. Saturday here in Los Angeles with the winner moving on to the Final Four next weekend in Atlanta.
“I've been saying this for a while, it seems like with the schedule we played, but that was about as high-powered college basketball game as I've been a part of,” said OSU coach Thad Matta. “You look at the plays that the Arizona players made, the players that the Buckeyes made, they're up 11, we get up 10. Just a battle.
“I think the biggest thing for us was in the second half we defended. We got our defense back. I told our guys at halftime that I thought it was probably the most selfish defensive effort we have played in a long time and we needed to be more active, more aware, helping.”
This was OSU’s 11th straight win and the Buckeyes are one win away from going to the Final Four in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1960-62.
“It’s amazing,” Craft said. “Where we were a month-and-a-half ago and where we are today, it’s amazing. We had to believe in ourselves and trust one another. Some more people are trying to jump on our bandwagon but our strength is in this locker room and in us.”
Deshaun Thomas led Ohio State with 20 points. Ross added 17 points, while Aaron Craft had 13 points, five rebounds and five assists. Sam Thompson had 11 points and eight rebounds. Lenzelle Smith Jr. chipped in six points and eight boards.
The Buckeyes trailed by as many as 11 points to the athletic Wildcats before rallying to within four at 38-34 at the break. OSU then hit Arizona with a 19-5 burst to start the second half to grab the lead. Arizona rallied and tied it at 70-70 on Mark Lyons’ three-point play with 21.8 seconds left. Ross committed the foul on the Wildcats guard and momentarily was the goat … until he became OSU’s latest hero.
Craft held the ball for the final shot. Just as it happened on Sunday against Iowa State, Ross came to set a high ball screen. When both defenders collapsed on Craft, he flipped it to Ross and the sophomore did the rest. His 23-footer got nothing but net and brought down the house at the cavernous Staples Center.
“We were trying to get the last shot,” Craft said. “It’s a great feeling and a great feeling to be able to play again.”
When OSU’s Smith deflected Arizona’s last-ditch fullcourt inbounds pass, the Buckeyes had most certainly survived and advanced.
“I don’t know if destiny is the right word,” said OSU’s Thompson. “We know that at any time it can be taken away from us with one bad half of basketball. We’re just focused on playing our best basketball for 40 minutes.
“It’s a great time. It raises your blood pressure a bit with the last-second shots, but it’s a great time on this team.”
Lyons had 23 points to lead Arizona (27-8) while Solomon Hill added 16.
For Arizona coach Sean Miller, he could probably only harken back six years ago to when another Ohio State team had defeated one of his squads in similar fashion. In an NCAA second-round game in Lexington, Ky., Ron Lewis hit a three late in regulation to force overtime in what became a 78-71 OSU win over Miller’s Xavier team.
“My complete and 100 percent focus is on Arizona,” Miller said. “We have the greatest fans in the world. We have a tradition that's spectacular. Every day that I think we walk into practice or play a game, it's about representing who we are. I wish we were moving to the Elite Eight, but we lost in the Sweet 16.
“But we won 27 games, and to me, our team did a lot of remarkable things. My focus is on being back here next year and trying to breakthrough.”
The Buckeyes were fortunate to only be down 38-34 at halftime. Arizona, led by 10 points from Lyons, shot 50 percent in the first half. Thomas kept the Buckeyes in it with 16 first-half points after they fell behind by as many as 11.
“Yeah, we felt like we started off slow,” Thomas said. “Guys were being selfish, guys were hugged up on their man, not helping each other out, getting into gaps and tagging. I don't know what it was. It was probably just the heat of the moment. Everybody was just too excited.
“But we picked it up in the second half. What we do, Ohio State basketball. Coach said do what we do at halftime, and that's what we did. We came out and were more aggressive on the defensive end.”
Arizona jumped out to an 8-2 lead to start the game as the Buckeyes missed six of their first seven shots from the floor. Meanwhile, Lyons and Parrom splashed threes for the Wildcats.
Thompson converted a Craft assist into a three from the left wing to cut the Arizona lead to 10-7, but UA’s Brandon Ashley answered with a hook. Craft then drove the lane and spun around his defender for a layup. After a UA turnover, Thompson was fouled. His two free throws cut the Arizona lead to 12-11 with 13:11 left in the half.
Thompson reverse gave OSU lead early in second half
OSU went with its small lineup with LaQuinton Ross replacing Evan Ravenel. But Arizona made OSU pay dearly as 6-10 freshman Grant Jerrett had a putback dunk and also splashed a three from the left corner for a 17-13 lead. Ross then lost the handle on the dribble with Lyons picking his pocket and going coast to coast for a layup and a 19-13 lead.
Craft answered with a stop-and-go baseline drive for a layup. But Lyons stormed back, drove the lane, scored and was fouled. His free throw put Arizona up 22-15 with 10:56 left in the half.
The Arizona lead widened to nine at 26-17 as Scott was stripped by Parrom on a drive. Parrom threw it ahead to Nick Johnson for a breakaway dunk. Matta called a timeout to try and stem the tide.
Thomas came out and hit a critical three to make it 26-20 with 7:47 left in the half. Arizona got two free throws from Kaleb Tarczewski and a three from Johnson to go up 31-20 with 6:57 left in the half. UA still led 33-22 after Parrom made a pair of free throws with 6:24 left. Matta reinserted Craft with two fouls.
OSU chipped away with Thompson making 1 of 2 free throws. When his miss on the second went out of bounds to OSU, Craft converted the extra possession with a driving bank shot. After a UA turnover, Craft drove and dished to Thompson for a critical three that cut it to five at 33-28 with 4:30 left.
Solomon Hill answered with a three for Arizona. But Ross drove the lane, threw up a one-hander that went in and was fouled. His free throw made it 36-31 with 3:27 left in the half. Hill drove around Thomas for a jam and a 38-31 lead. But Thomas redeemed himself as he took a pass from Lenzelle Smith Jr. in transition and hit a three to cut the halftime lead to four at 38-34.
“We just weren't guarding the ball the way we needed to guard the ball,” Matta said. “We weren't in position the way we needed to be in position. A lot of time when's the team gets rolling like they were, you hug up on your man and say, look, I'm not going to get scored on. He can get scored on, and we can't play that way.
“That was a lot of what we talked about at halftime of don't be selfish on defense. We can't win if we play selfish on defense. I thought that was one of the big keys to the start of the second half was just our activity.”
Ohio State went on a 19-5 run to start the second half and grab the lead. OSU scored the first 10 points of the half as Smith made two free throws, Smith tallied on a drive, Thompson made a reverse, Craft hit two foul shots and Amir Williams had a putback basket. OSU suddenly led 44-38 with 15:05 left.
Thompson talked about his reverse that gave the Buckeyes their first lead since it was 2-0.
“We felt we could drive against their defense,” Thompson said. “We saw they had some areas we could attack. Give Lenzelle credit he came out and attacked them and I was able to get loose on the baseline and we never looked back from there.”
Smith pressed the issue to start the second half.
“It was just about coming out and being ready,” Smith said. “With me not being an offensive threat, the guy guarding me was back a bit. I was able to get to the rim.”
Arizona’s Ashley broke the drought with a jumper. But Smith took a Craft pass in transition, went down the baseline and jammed it. Craft then made two foul shots. Ravenel grabbed a tough rebound and outletted to Shannon Scott. He and Smith ran a perfect break with Scott hitting Smith and Smith returning it for a layup.
“I knew he was going to throw it back,” Scott said. “When we get a two-on-one opportunity, we have to capitalize on it. When you beat a team on their own play, it brings them down a little bit.”
Thomas capped the run with a straightaway three to make it 53-43 with 11:01 left. UA coach Sean Miller used three timeouts during this stretch to try and stem the tide.
Arizona’s Hill then scored nine straight points at the Arizona end to get the lead down to four at 56-52 with 8:41 left.
But Ross was fouled on a drive and then on a defensive rebound. He made four straight free throws for a 60-52 lead with 7:42 left.
Arizona got it down to three at 60-57 after a Lyons three, but Craft drove and kicked to Ross in the left corner for a critical three that made it 63-57 with 6:05 left.
Arizona’s Nick Johnson and OSU’s Ross traded layups before Lyons was fouled. His two free throws trimmed it to 69-65 with 1:20 left. Craft was then fouled and made 1 of 2 for a 70-65 lead with 1:18 left.
Lyons drove right down the lane and scored to cut it to three at 70-67 with 1:05 left. Ohio State then called timeout with 43 seconds left. OSU held it and Craft missed on a drive with 27 seconds left.
Lyons drove, scored and was fouled by Ross. His free throw tied it at 70-70 with 21.8 seconds left.
The Buckeyes brought it up without a timeout. Ross set a pick for Craft and drifted to the left wing. Craft flipped it to him with five seconds left and Ross hit a 23-footer from the left wing for the winning points with 2.1 seconds left.
“It's great, man,” Ross said of his feeling on the shot. “Especially when you know all platers and coaches have trust in you. I think that's what a player feeds on. Those big moments when they know they can count on you, that is a great moment.”
Matta added, “I had a timeout left. We were looking at the alignment and we felt pretty comfortable that we could make them catch it where we wanted. Lenzelle, he stretched out, got his hand on that ball, just a tremendous effort. Q was on the ball, did a great job. If they would have been dribbling four or five, maybe would have.
“But I liked the alignment we had. I liked where our guys were. They seemed to have a feel for what we were attempting to do and what we told them to do.”
Arizona inbounded deep, but OSU’s Smith deflected it and the Buckeyes had a hard fought win.
“I was able to tip that ball away and we were able to win that game,” Smith said. “Those last plays, I was thinking about the flight we took to get out here. It was the worst flight ever. I didn’t want to go home. Luckily, we get to stay and enjoy this wonderful weather.”
In the second half, Arizona struggled as the Buckeyes upped their defensive intensity. The Wildcats made just 39.3 percent of their shots (11 of 28) including just 1 of 10 three-point tries.
“That’s toughness,” Thomas said. “We don't give up. We show heart. We stand together as a team, and we fight. We fight together, and it's just all toughness with me.”
* Individually, several of the OSU players have risen to the occasion with the season on the line.
Start with Craft: In the season’s first 25 games, he averaged 9.3 points, 4.4 assists and 1.9 steals. During the 11-game winning streak, Craft has averaged 11.8 points, 5.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game.
Ross has come up big in OSU’s six postseason games, beginning with the Big Ten tournament. In this stretch, he has averaged 11.3 points and hit 60 percent of his three-point shots (12 of 20). He averaged 7.3 points in the 30-game regular season.
“Just in terms of the game, the one thing that I really had my eye on was LaQuinton Ross,” said UA’s Miller. “I really believe if you look at Ohio State's winning streak, when he enters the game, it changes things in a very positive way for their team.”
Thompson has also excelled in the six postseason games. In those games, he has averaged 12.2 points and hit 61.5 percent of his threes (8 of 13). He averaged 7.0 points during the regular season.
And Thomas again seems to be on a tear in the NCAA Tournament with games of 24 points against Iona, 22 against Iowa State and 20 here against Arizona. In seven NCAA games in two years, Thomas has averaged 20.3 points and also hit 43.2 percent of his three-point tries (16 of 37).
He averaged 6.7 points per game in three NCAA games as a freshman backup in 2011.
* With 20 points, Thomas now has 1,607 points in his career. He moved past Robin Freeman ( 1,597 points) into 11th place on the school’s scoring list. Next up is Perry Carter with 1,613 points.
* A win in Saturday’s regional championship game would put Ohio State in the Final Four for the 12th time and second year in a row. OSU has been to consecutive Final Fours twice before with three straight trips between 1944-46 and 1960-62. Other Final Four berths were won in 1939, 1968, 1999 and 2007.
This is Ohio State’s 29th NCAA appearance. The Buckeyes have a 54-27 record all-time in the tournament.
Since the tournament expanded to at least 16 teams in 1951, Ohio State is now 9-5 in games to reach the final eight of the tournament. OSU is 11-3 all-time in NCAA games to reach the Final Four.
* Ohio State and Arizona had met just once previously. It was a 90-47 Ohio State victory in the UCLAN Classic in Los Angeles on Dec. 29, 1972.
Matta coached against Arizona twice in his one season as the head coach at Butler in 2000-01. Arizona downed Butler 72-60 in the Fiesta Bowl Classic and won 73-52 in an NCAA second-round tournament game in Kansas City.
* OSU’s 29 wins this season ties for the fourth-most in a single season in school history. The record is 35 in 2006-07, followed by 34 in 2010-11, 31 in 2011-12 and 29 in 2009-10 and this year. OSU has hit the 20-win plateau in each of Matta’s nine seasons.
* The Buckeyes have won 11 straight games dating to a Feb. 17 loss at Wisconsin.
* This is OSU’s seventh NCAA trip in nine seasons under Thad Matta. Under Matta, OSU is now 17-6 in NCAA Tournament games. Matta’s overall record as a college coach in the NCAA is 23-10. Including conference tournaments, the NCAA and the NIT, Matta’s teams are 56-16 all-time in postseason play as a college coach and 41-11 in the postseason at OSU.
* Matta’s teams are now 78-17 all-time in the month of March. That includes a 53-12 mark in nine years at OSU.
* In the final AP poll, Ohio State was seventh and Arizona was 21st. Matta’s OSU teams are a combined 44-51 against ranked teams in his nine years with the Buckeyes. OSU is 6-7 against ranked teams this year. In 13 years as a college head coach, Matta’s teams are a combined 53-60 against ranked teams.
* Arizona coach Sean Miller worked for Matta for three seasons as an assistant at Xavier. They went against each other in the 2007 NCAA regional semifinals at Lexington, Ky., where OSU took a 78-71 overtime win on its way to the national title game that season.
* This is the second time Ohio State has played in the NCAA Tournament in Los Angeles. The first time was the 1968 Final Four, played at the LA Sports Arena. That OSU team lost to No. 4-ranked North Carolina 80-66 in a semifinal game before defeating No. 1 Houston (and Elvin Hayes) 89-85 in the consolation game.
* Matta discussed his team’s opportunity in Saturday’s regional final. The game with Wichita State will be at 7 p.m. Eastern on CBS.
“I'm happy to be playing on Saturday, number one, first and foremost,” he said. “I know this going into the game, there is a reason we're playing in the Elite Eight against whoever it is, and it's going to be as we've had so far in this tournament, another hard fought battle.”
* Click here for the box score of OSU-Arizona.
Click here for Dave Biddle’s What We Learned column after OSU’s win over Arizona.
Postgame Press Conference Transcript
COACH MATTA: I've been saying this for a while, it seems like with the schedule we played, but that was about as high‑powered college basketball game as I've been a part of. You look at the plays that the Arizona players made, the players that the Buckeyes made, they're up 11, we get up 10. Just a battle.
I think the biggest thing for us was in the second half we defended. We got our defense back. I told our guys at halftime that I thought it was probably the most selfish defensive effort we have played in a long time and we needed to be more active, more aware, helping.
Lot of times those guys are, as I said going into the game, an extremely talented team. I thought once we got everybody involved defensively, that was huge for us.
Q. When you stepped into that three, did you know it was going down?
LaQUINTON ROSS: I like to credit my coaches for the play. It was similar to the play we ran last game. We like to get the big that's pick‑and‑roll. It so happened they messed up on the switch right there, and I was able to knock down the shot.
Q. LaQuinton, can you talk about how you made the mental transition from the foul to hitting that shot and just what it took to have the confidence there?
LaQUINTON ROSS: When I got the foul, I was kind of upset, and my players grabbed me and told me calm down and worry about the next play. I was able to go down, able to run the play and execute.
Q. You come to Ohio State, obviously, as a top recruit, got a lot of potential, and then you go through a lot of struggles. What's it feel like to be here, to hit the big shot at this moment for the team?
LaQUINTON ROSS: It feels great, man. This is what every player grows up looking at on TV and wants to hit that big shot, wants to win the game and hit the big shot in the NCAA Tournament or the NBA. It just feels great to be here right now.
Q. Deshaun, Thad talked about the start of the game and the defense not being where you guys wanted it. A lot of us were wondering if you weren't quite able to get rid of all the jet lag before the game started, and if you finally got on Pacific time about ten minutes in?
DESHAUN THOMAS: Yeah, we felt like we started off slow. Guys were being selfish, guys were hugged up on their man, not helping each other out, getting into gaps and tagging. I don't know what it was. It was probably just the heat of the moment. Everybody was just too excited.
But we picked it up in the second half. What we do, Ohio State basketball. Coach said do what we do at halftime, and that's what we did. We came out and were more aggressive on the defensive end.
Q. I want to ask about a couple of the shots you made before the game winner. Aaron drove the baseline and found you in the corner. It was a key point in the game. You hit the three from the corner. Just what happened on that? What you saw there? It looked like you were pretty wide open. Then with about 1:30 to go, you drove in, and the shot clock was running down and a tough shot into traffic. Just those two plays, what they meant and what you saw in each and what they meant?
LaQUINTON ROSS: The first shot with Craft driving the baseline, that's something we work on in practice every day. Any time a player draws the baseline, we always teach the thing down, and that player is going to be open because the defense sags in on him.
The second play, I saw the shot clock going down, and my coaches were telling me to go. So I was able to go in and get the lay‑up.
Q. Do you know whose locker you changed in?
LaQUINTON ROSS: I found out from one of the guys that works here it was Kobe Bryant's locker. 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. I was excited about that though.
Q. I'd like each player's take on this. What is it about the Ohio State team that you guys keep making the big play?
DESHAUN THOMAS: Toughness. We don't give up. We show heart. We stand together as a team, and we fight. We fight together, and it's just all toughness with me.
LaQUINTON ROSS: I think it's a credit to everybody on this team. Everything that happened to us this year, we use everything that everybody says to us as motivation. People told us and counted us out early in the season. I think we're using that right now in this tournament and proving people wrong. Everybody's out there playing with a chip on their shoulder. Even the coaches are coaching with a chip on their shoulder, so it's great when we're all playing together like that.
Q. How tough was it for you to stay patient over the course of the year when you first got here until you started playing a bigger rollover the last month or two?
LaQUINTON ROSS: I think it was very important. Coming in my freshman year, I think I was kind of immature as far as my thinking, thinking why am I not playing, why am I not doing this? I think everything paid off, all the hard work is paying off in this tournament.
Q. You mentioned that you had the same locker as Kobe Bryant. Did you kind of get a little added motivation knowing that you were sharing the locker with a legend?
LaQUINTON ROSS: It felt great, especially when I found out it was his locker because I was in shock because I came into that locker, I knew I called dibs on it early.
But to find out I had the locker, it felt great. That's one of my favorite players growing up and somebody I model my game after, so...
Q. Did you feel good that you lived up to it since you hit a big shot in the building, and he has hit plenty of big shots?
LaQUINTON ROSS: Oh, definitely, man. Playing here at the Staples Center, that's one of my dreams. It was great, man.
Q. What is it like to be able to come to Los Angeles and play on the court that Kobe Bryant has played on, Lob City has thrown it up on. What's it like to be here in Los Angeles?
LaQUINTON ROSS: I think it's great. Especially the weather. We're loving the weather right now. Back in Columbus, I think it was snowing before we left. So got a little sun. Got to get out and look around a little bit. But now it's time to take care of business.
DESHAUN THOMAS: It's fun. Great weather. It's the city of Angels. I love it, and back at home, it's snowing, so I'm just trying to enjoy this time. But we all know what we're here for, and we get one more game.
Q. The word was yesterday, LaQuinton, that you challenged Reggie Miller to a three‑point contest there during open practice. Did he accept? Certainly he wouldn't accept it now, I wouldn't think?
LaQUINTON ROSS: Yeah, I did. Actually, I was talking to one of my fellow teammates and I was like, yeah, I was feel going yesterday. So I was like we should call Reggie out here. So after practice me and Craft went up to him, and Craft told him what I said. I think I'm going to try to make him come out of retirement and shoot a little bit.
Q. Sean Miller said a little while ago that they must have switched 400 ball screens during the game, and the one ball screen they didn't switch was at the end of the game. Were you surprised when you found yourself that open for that shot?
LaQUINTON ROSS: Yeah, I was definitely surprised coming down the stretch. But that was something that we watched in film and that we saw that we could do. Setting our pick‑and‑rolls when their players were switching, and we just had to execute.
Q. Lenzelle said in the locker room that last year he probably goes and steals that ball from you so that way he can shoot it himself. The fact that your teammates have so much confidence to believe that you're going to knock down a shot like that after what you've gone through here, how much does that mean to you?
LaQUINTON ROSS: It's great, man. Especially when you know all platers and coaches have trust in you. I think that's what a player feeds on. Those big moments when they know they can count on you, that is a great moment.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Matta.
Q. You said yesterday that the last time you traveled to a Game 3 time zones away, there is just something that is a little off when you try to play. Did you have that as you were watching your guys the first ten minutes? Did it seem like there was just something that was off, and did you think it might have been the jet lag like we talked about?
COACH MATTA: I'll be honest with you, it never crossed my mind. I'm all screwed up on time. I'm where I am now, I guess. But I thought we were playing hard to start the game. We just weren't playing smart; give Arizona credit. They came out and they were banging threes on us.
We just weren't guarding the ball the way we needed to guard the ball. We weren't in position the way we needed to be in position. A lot of time when's the team gets rolling like they were, you hug up on your man and say, look, I'm not going to get scored on. He can get scored on, and we can't play that way.
That was a lot of what we talked about at halftime of don't be selfish on defense. We can't win if we play selfish on defense. I thought that was one of the big keys to the start of the second half was just our activity.
Q. How has LaQuinton just evolved and matured from the time he was recruited until the guy we saw out there tonight hitting that big shot?
COACH MATTA: Well, LaQuinton has really grown in a lot of areas. I've always said this about LaQuinton, he knows more information about stuff. I always ask him, not how do you know this, but why do you know this? And I'm talking from hockey. He's looking at the banners, talking about hockey. He's talking about the NFL; it's just amazing. I think the biggest thing that he's done is he's, and I've used this word a lot, he's engaged himself in all of the little things, and that's made him a better basketball player in terms of practice, bringing an attitude to practice.
Bringing just an overall mindset that he's in. He's really become prideful in the little things in his game and it's really propelled him to be a better basketball player. I'm proud of him.
Q. LaQuinton called himself immature last year. His teammates just told me that he rebelled last year quite often. Was there ever a point where you wondered if he was going to be able to last in your program?
COACH MATTA: No, no, because he's such a good kid. He's got a heart of gold character‑wise. We recruit great kids, and LaQuinton is definitely a great kid.
What happened last year is he didn't join us until mid‑December. He missed grade school, junior high, high school, because those first two months of the season are the most important months in terms of fundamentals, that sort of thing. So when he got here, he was a little behind. I told him at one point, look, I can't hold tryouts during the Big Ten. The league is too good. To his credit, he kept working. He got better. Had a great offseason. Like I said, I'm just very, very proud of him.
A lot of times there is a defining moment for a young kid, and he's had not only today, but he's had some big baskets. His defense is getting‑‑ Ashley went by him there, forced Deshaun's help. The one kid hit the three in the corner, and I told him, you're either going to defender I'm not putting you back in the basketball game, and to his credit, he did a really good job.
Q. Is there a lesson there? We see so many transfers and so many kids in a time where particularly a kid who was rated as the No. 1 eighth grader in the country at some point. It's supposed to be fast track to the NBA. Is there a lesson here with him that maybe if you fight through it, things can work out? You don't always have to run from everything?
COACH MATTA: No question about that. I think the guy sitting next to him was a very similar product.
The one thing that we talk about, and I think this in recruiting, you're going to be a product of the environment that you choose. One of the things that I'm most proud of is the environment we have in our program. What you're asking is kind of the stick‑to‑itiveness to see the big picture. It's not as easy as people think it is, and that's what excites me. I'm sitting up here, and I'm listening to them talk. I'm thinking about when Deshaun came to Ohio State, it was a process.
There's only a small group of those guys that just, boom, go. It happens so quick for them. To LaQuinton's credit, he stayed the court. Hey, I've told him all along, you're a starter on this basketball team. They don't call your name at the beginning, but you're going to play starter minutes, and he just smiles and does his job.
Q. The start of the second half you guys drove the baseline a lot. It seemed like for the rest of the half, none of their big men were at all comfortable no matter where you guys were. Was that by design or the flow of the game?
COACH MATTA: It was kind of the flow of the game just in terms of we were getting stops and we were able to get out and push in transition. That was kind of where open area was. I thought guys showed great patience in terms of letting it develop and making great reads.
We had it in the first half. We missed like five lay‑ups in the first half down there along the baseline, and that was‑‑ we were able to finish there in the second half.
Q. You have a short turn around until Saturday. What are you happy with now? What do you feel like you need to improve on in the next day and a half? And do you have a preference on who wins tonight?
COACH MATTA: I'm happy to be playing on Saturday, number one, first and foremost. In terms of a preference, I really don't. I'm one of these guys I don't follow. In another hour and a half, we've got both teams broken down. We'll sit down, guys will be watching film tonight of either opponent.
I know this going into the game, there is a reason we're playing in the Elite Eight against whoever it is, and it's going to be as we've had so far in this tournament, another hard‑fought battle.
Q. What are you happy with?
COACH MATTA: I tell you what, I'm happy with the guys' perseverance in terms of being down 11 in the first half. I thought they kept their composure. There were a couple times when we could have crumbled, and they stuck with it, cutting it to four.
We talked about, hey, we were just here against Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament. We were just here against Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament. Let's get back to what we're doing.
So with that said, I told the guys before the game, here's the beauty of this game against Arizona. We have to be who we are to win this game. If we're not who we are, we're not going to win the game. And that would probably be, I thought in the second half we were who we were.
Q. What do you feel like you need to improve on still?
COACH MATTA: We need to check and make sure that our defense is where it is. And I say that catering to whoever we're going to play and taking away what their main things are. I still love how unselfish we're playing offensively right now.
One of the biggest things we talked about going into this game was rebounding. We outrebounded Arizona by two, and that was an issue for our guys in terms of we knew we had to rebound the ball. So very, very pleased with how we rebounded the ball today.
Q. Deshaun had talked earlier about how he started to foul up three in the final seconds after that Ohio State 25‑footer or whatever. Was there any thought there at the end to foul if they would have inbounded it short or anything like that?
COACH MATTA: Yeah, we talked about it. The problem‑‑ I had a timeout left. We were looking at the alignment and we felt pretty comfortable that we could make them catch it where we wanted. Lenzelle, he stretched out, got his hand on that ball, just a tremendous effort. Q was on the ball, did a great job. If they would have been dribbling four or five, maybe would have.
But I liked the alignment we had. I liked where our guys were. They seemed to have a feel for what we were attempting to do and what we told them to do.
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