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What To Watch: OSU vs. Arizona

Ohio State, the No. 2 seed in the NCAA West Region, will play for a return trip to the Elite Eight as it takes on sixth-seeded Arizona in a regional semifinal Thursday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles (7:47 p.m. Eastern, TBS).

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Since the NCAA field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985, Ohio State has reached the Sweet 16 eight times. That includes the last three years in a row. No team remaining in this year’s tournament has made it to four straight Sweet 16s.

Ohio State is 13-6 all-time in regional semifinal games. That includes a win over Cincinnati last year in Boston and losses to Tennessee in 2010 in St. Louis and Kentucky in 2011 in Newark, N.J.

The winner between Ohio State (28-7) and Arizona (27-7) will take on the winner of Thursday’s second West regional semifinal between No. 9 seed Wichita State (28-8) and No. 13 seed La Salle (24-9). That regional championship game will be at 4:20 p.m. or 6:55 p.m. Eastern on Saturday on CBS with the winner heading on to the Final Four in Atlanta next weekend.

Below, we have our preview and a prediction for Thursday’s OSU-Arizona game.

In the video boards, we have video from Wednesday’s open practice at the Staples Center as well as comments from players Deshaun Thomas, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson and Aaron Craft (below).

Here is our What To Watch feature for Thursday’s game against Arizona:

Opponent: Arizona

* What: NCAA West Region semifinal

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* Where: Staples Center (capacity, 18,118), Los Angeles

* Date, Time: Thursday, 7:47 p.m.

* TV: TBS (Announcers: Kevin Harland, Reggie Miller, Len Elmore and Lewis Johnson)

* 2012-13 Records: Ohio State, 28-7 overall, 13-5 Big Ten (tied for second); Arizona, 27-7 overall, 12-6 Pac-12 (tied for second).

* NCAA Tournament Records: Ohio State, 29th appearance, 53-27 all-time, 11 Final Fours (most recent 2012), one national title (1960); Arizona, 30th appearance, 48-28 all-time, four Final Fours (most recent 2001), one national title (1997).

* Poll Rankings: Ohio State, seventh in the AP poll and sixth in the USA Today coaches poll; Arizona, 21st in AP poll, 20th in coaches poll.

* RPI Rankings: Ohio State, 10th; Arizona, 15th. (Ohio State is 8-7 against RPI top 50 teams, while Arizona is 7-5.)

* Sagarin Rankings: Ohio State, fifth; Arizona, 23rd.

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* Key Players (2012-13 Stats): Ohio State – F Deshaun Thomas, 6-7, jr., 19.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg; G Aaron Craft, 6-2, jr., 10.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.7 apg, 2.1 spg; G Lenzelle Smith Jr., 6-4, jr., 9.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.5 apg; F LaQuinton Ross, 6-8, so., 7.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg; C Amir Williams, 6-11, so., 3.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.3 bpg; F-C Evan Ravenel, 6-8, sr., 5.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg; F Sam Thompson, 6-7, so., 7.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg; G Shannon Scott, 6-2, so., 4.9 ppg, 4.0 apg, 1.8 spg. Arizona – F Kevin Parrom, 6-6, sr., 8.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg; F Solomon Hill, 6-7, sr., 13.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.7 apg; C Kaleb Tarczewski, 7-0, fr., 6.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg; G Mark Lyons, 6-1, sr., 15.4 ppg, 2.9 apg; G Nick Johnson, 6-3, so., 11.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg; F Brandon Ashley, 6-8, fr., 7.6 ppg; F Grant Jerrett, 6-10, fr., 5.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg.

* Quality Of Opponent: Very good. Arizona opened the year 14-0 and rose as high as No. 4 in the polls before a Jan. 10 loss at Oregon (70-66). The Wildcats have won seven of their last 10 games coming into the regional.

Their quality wins include Florida (65-64), Miami (Fla.) (69-50) and San Diego State (68-67). The Wildcats did lose to UCLA three times, including a 66-64 loss March 15 in a Pac-12 tournament semifinal game.

In the NCAA, Arizona has taken wins over No. 11 seed Belmont (81-64) and No. 14 seed Harvard (74-51). Against Belmont, Arizona shot 56 percent from the floor. Lyons led the way with 23 points. Against Harvard, Arizona held the Crimson to 28 percent shooting. Lyons had 27 points in that win, hitting 12 of 17 shots.

Arizona was last in the Pac-12 in defense and gives up over 63 points a game. But it’s obvious the Wildcats have put the clamps down. And one more factor: Lyons played in the Sweet 16 with Xavier last year before transferring. He, Hill and Parrom are all battle-tested seniors. Coach Sean Miller also gets contributions from a stellar freshman class, including Tarczewski, Ashley and Jerrett.

* OSU-Arizona Series: Ohio State and Arizona have 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.

* Fun Facts: OSU’s 28 wins this season stand as the fifth-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. OSU has hit the 20-win plateau in each of Matta’s nine seasons … The Buckeyes have won 10 straight games dating to a Feb. 17 loss at Wisconsin … OSU arrived in LA after defeating No. 15 seed Iona (95-70) and No. 10 seed Iowa State (78-75). Thomas had 24 points and Thompson had 20 in the rout of Iona. Craft hit a three with a half-second left for the margin of victory against ISU. Thomas had 22 points, Craft had 18 and Ross added 17 in that win … This is OSU’s seventh NCAA trip in nine seasons under Thad Matta. Under Matta, OSU is now 16-6 in NCAA Tournament games. Matta’s overall record as a college coach in the NCAA is 22-10. Including conference tournaments, the NCAA and the NIT, Matta’s teams are 55-16 all-time in postseason play as a college coach and 40-11 in the postseason at OSU … Matta’s teams are now 74-17 all-time in the month of March. That includes a 52-12 mark in nine years at OSU … Matta’s OSU teams are a combined 43-51 against ranked teams in his nine years with the Buckeyes. OSU is 5-7 against ranked teams this year. In 13 years as a college head coach, Matta’s teams are a combined 52-60 against ranked teams … Thomas is 12th on OSU’s career scoring list with 1,587 points. Next up is Robin Freeman with 1,597 points … In seven NCAA games in two years, Thomas has averaged 20.3 points and 6.6 rebounds and also hit 41.3 percent of his three-point tries (13 of 31) … 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.

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* Match-Ups To Watch: There are several to watch. First and foremost, OSU’s stellar defensive backcourt of Craft, Scott and Smith must get a handle on the high scoring Lyons. Johnson is also an opportunistic scorer and facillator. Johnson, Parrom and Hill are also three-point threats.

The Thomas/Hill match-up also bears watching. Both can score from anywhere on the court. Thomas has ramped up his defense and will need to bring it again here to contain the explosive Hill.

* What’s At Stake: A spot in the NCAA Elite Eight and a chance to play for a spot in the Final Four.

* Next On The Docket: The winner advances to the NCAA West Regional championship Saturday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. That team will play the winner of Thursday’s other regional semifinal between Wichita State and La Salle.

* NCAA Tournament Schedule – Here is the schedule for this weekend’s NCAA games:

West Region (at Los Angeles) – Thursday: Ohio State (2 seed) vs. Arizona (6), 7:47 p.m. (TBS); Wichita State (9) vs. La Salle (13), 10:17 p.m. (TBS). Saturday: Regional championship, 4:20 or 6:55 p.m. (CBS).

East Region (at Washington, D.C.) – Thursday: Miami (Fla.) (2) vs. Marquette (3), 7:15 p.m. (CBS); Indiana (1) vs. Syracuse (4), 9:45 p.m. (CBS). Saturday: Regional championship, 4:20 or 6:55 p.m. (CBS).

Midwest Region (at Indianapolis) – Friday: Louisville (1) vs. Oregon (12), 7:15 p.m. (CBS); Duke (2) vs. Michigan State (3), 9:45 p.m. (CBS). Sunday: Regional championship, 2:10 or 4:55 p.m. (CBS).

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South Region (at Arlington, Texas) – Friday: Kansas (1) vs. Michigan (4), 7:37 p.m. (TBS); Florida (3) vs. Florida Gulf Coast (15), 9:57 p.m. (TBS). Sunday: Regional championship, 2:10 or 4:55 p.m. (CBS).

Final Four (at Atlanta) – April 6: Semifinals; April 8: National championship game.

* How We See It: Arizona was predicted to win the Pac-12, but the Wildcats did not fare well against eventual league champion UCLA. It could have been a bad match-up for Arizona. Take away those three losses and Arizona only lost four other games all year – at Oregon, Colorado and USC and at home to Cal, which was an NCAA team.

This is going to be another tough challenge for the Buckeyes, but it is one they can win. Arizona’s defensive intensity seems to waver at times and OSU must take advantage whenever those lapses occur.

The Buckeyes gave up 12 made threes to Iowa State. Arizona will also fire up the three ball as the Wildcats average 21 attempts behind the arc per game. OSU’s defense must push up on Arizona on the perimeter to limit those clean looks.

You have the known commodities like Thomas and Craft for OSU and Lyons and Johnson for Arizona. The key will be which group of support players delivers the goods. OSU has been getting solid contributions from Ross and Thompson on a more consistent basis. Ross has averaged 10.2 points and hit 55 percent of his threes over the last five games. In that same span, Thompson has averaged 12.4 points – up from 7.0 during the season.

Scott and Smith have also stepped it up at times as well. Can the Buckeyes attack the paint with Williams (who struggled mightily against Iowa State) or Ravenel? To get 10 points out of that center spot would be a huge key.

Miller has done a nice job in his three years at Arizona, which is used to going deep into the NCAA. I foresee another nut cruncher … and the Buckeyes move on to the Elite Eight.

I will call it: Ohio State 72, Arizona 67

In the other match-up here in Los Angeles, I like Wichita State to defeat La Salle 75-70, so it will be the Buckeyes and the Shockers playing for a Final Four berth in LA on Saturday.

Press Conference Transcripts

Here are transcripts of some of today’s press events here in Los Angeles:

Q. Obviously, a lot of the stories focus on you two, but LaQuinton Ross, Shannon Scott and a number of other guys have helped this team. How important is the supporting cast for the Buckeyes in terms of what you all have accomplished thus far?
DESHAUN THOMAS: It's important for those guys to come in and make big shots and score the ball really well. To guys asked the question who was that other scorer, but now guys are stepping up and making big plays, LaQuinton Ross, Shannon Scott, and also Lenzelle and Sam. So it's good for our program and our team.
AARON CRAFT: Yeah, it's been great to have multiple guys kind of come into their roles, and it's not always been scoring, it's not always been the most flashy of things. But it's been great, everyone really kind of taking to heart what they need to do for this team to be successful, whether it's Shannon coming off the bench, bringing us energy off the defensive end, LaQuinton coming in and making big shots.
It's been great for our team as a whole, and it's helped us to grow a lot, and hopefully we can continue to do that tomorrow.

Q. What team that you played this year would you liken Arizona to?
AARON CRAFT: It's always very tough to compare one team to another. I think they're going to play very physical, and I think the league that we played in, we played physical people. Michigan State comes to mind with the bigs they have inside that can score, and also the guys that are surrounding them that can knock down outside shots and also drive the ball.
But every team's different, and everyone has their own kind of spin on some things. So we're just looking forward to a good game, and it's obviously going to be big and physical.
DESHAUN THOMAS: Yeah, I think the physicality is like Michigan State. They have similar plays a little bit. They run the floor, transition, and also rebound the ball really well. So we're going to try to play them like a Michigan State, box out, and just play our style of basketball.

Q. Have you seen virtually every defense in the world this year? Can you describe what you've seen?
DESHAUN THOMAS: Yeah, I've seen a lot of defense, multiple defenses. A lot of teams changeup two‑three, always collapse on me in the middle, different bodies. But I just try to run the offense and run it with pace and try to take good shots.

Q. Solomon Hill said he's going to be matched up against you most of the game if not all of the game. Can you just talk about what you've seen on film from him? One of Arizona's better defenders.
DESHAUN THOMAS: He's a great player. He's a great offensive player. He can make shots. He's a mismatch nightmare out there too at 6'7", long, and can play the post, can shoot the three. He's a great player. It's going to be a great match‑up, and I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Q. The jumper you made against Iowa State and the way you finished it, was that an homage to Michael Jordan?
AARON CRAFT: I don't think I'm nearly close enough to being able to be put in that same category as him. I know if I wouldn't have made it, I think Deshaun was going to be a little angry at me for not throwing him the ball, so I think that gave it the extra oomph for it to go in.

Q. Did you realize you were doing that though?
AARON CRAFT: I did not. I was actually talking about that with someone as we were walking over here today. It was just kind of happening. Living in the moment and letting it happen.

Q. When you look at Mark Lyons what he's able to do and what you might try to take away assuming you're guarding him?
AARON CRAFT: It always gets tougher the further you go in the tournament. You play against great players and as a defender you always want to take away their go‑to or whatever it is. When you play great players, they have more than one.
He's definitely one of those players. He can score in a variety of ways and get a shot off, which is always very tough. So as much as we try to neighboring it a one‑on‑one match‑up type of thing, it's all about our team and how we can get in gaps, show him bodies, and hopefully take away some lanes that he drives in usually. Make him make some tougher shots and hopefully that will be enough.

Thad Matta press conference

COACH MATTA: Well, obviously very excited to be here in this tournament, this part of the tournament. I think from a standpoint of being in the west division coming out here, it's good for our guys.
We took practice at home yesterday, had a very good workout, came out, let them enjoy Los Angeles a little bit, and today has been all business as it will be as we go to practice here. Like I said, very happy and excited to be here to play tomorrow.

Q. Don't want to rat him out, but Craft doesn't know who Ron Lewis was. Just admitted it. Was the game that long ago, Thad?
COACH MATTA: Yeah, well, think about how old he was. At that point probably sixth, seventh grade, I would imagine. But I think Ron's been back, and he's living in Houston now when he's not overseas. I know he's been back. It may have been when Aaron was injured this summer or whatever. But I'll brief him on it.

Q. When Sean was contemplating going from Xavier to Arizona, did he call you and run it by you?
COACH MATTA: Yeah.

Q. What did you say?
COACH MATTA: I can still remember where I was when he called and it was about an hour conversation. I stepped outside of a restaurant. I came back in, and my wife said what is he going to do? And I said, I have no idea. I've never seen a guy jump from one side of the fence to the other as many times as he did.
I think that Sean looked at the thing that intrigued him was Arizona is one of the, if not thee, top job on the west coast. You've got your UCLAs, your Gonzagas, Washington. I know programs are up‑and‑coming now, but I think that was something that he felt pretty strong about in terms of just the reputation of what Coach Olson had built there.
It was definitely a situation that he was going into that had banners hanging from the rafters when he took the job.

Q. Obviously, a lot of talk about Aaron and Deshaun. But how important has the supporting cast been for this team? Especially guys like LaQuinton as you've had success in the last month or so?
COACH MATTA: They've been the difference. The thing that I've enjoyed watching come to fruition is just those guys accepting their roles, but then taking great pride in doing their job. I think that's kind of been one of the biggest keys for this basketball team. Guys quit asking questions in their minds and just started playing basketball. With that said, it's definitely made us a better basketball team.
I think when you go through the length of a season, and there are many ups and downs, even through wins, to watch those guys continue to get better. This team has never stopped working. Yesterday being March 26th, they came in, they were ready to go in practice, and I think we got better. They know from film Monday night that we didn't play particularly well against Iowa State. If we don't play better, we don't have a chance tomorrow night.

Sean Miller press conference

COACH MILLER: Well, we're very excited to be here in LA. We have quite a few players from Southern California on our current team, certainly on a lot of our past teams. For our great fans, this is an area that's very easy for them to get to, and we look forward to all of those things coming together for us here tomorrow.
We know that we're playing against a great team, a team that's been in a Final Four a year ago. Several members of this year's team at Ohio State have won multiple Big Ten championships, whether it's in the tournament or during the regular season.
I know this year the Big Ten was an incredible conference. The fact that they've won, I believe, ten games in a row coming in, we know that it's about Arizona being at our best. Anything less, we won't be able to beat a team as good as Ohio State is.
So we look forward to that opportunity, and grateful to be here in the Sweet 16.

Q. If you would talk a little bit about the Buckeyes on the court and what they do that concerns you there?
COACH MILLER: Well, I watch Ohio State a lot. I think they're a remarkable defensive team. You can admire the way they play defense. It starts not only with Aaron Craft, who I think is the best at what he does defensively.
But Shannon Scott to me doesn't get nearly enough credit. They almost have two guards that just ball hawk your team and make defense easier sometimes for their other players. But they do it really, really well. They're connected. They play with great effort, and it's amazing how well they play defense against the conference that they played in.
On offense, it's not like they're a bad team on offense. I think they're really good. They're not as talented, maybe, as some of the most recent Ohio State teams, but they make up for it with really unselfishness and togetherness. They have a guy that gets 20 every night, Deshaun Thomas. Who from a scoring perspective, is as good as it gets.
They play together on both ends of the floor. Aaron Craft is exceptional at what he does. Deshaun Thomas is equally exceptional at what he does, and they have a lot of other good players that play Ohio State basketball.

Q. You obviously recruited Mark Lyons at Xavier several years ago. Can you just talk about your relationship with him and how that played a part in him coming out to Arizona for his final year? Also, he mostly played off the ball until this year. Talk about his development as a point guard who handles the ball now?
COACH MILLER: Well, I was the head coach at Xavier, and we recruited Mark Lyons. He committed to us fairly early in the process, I believe his junior year of high school. So if you go through that right now, that's about seven or eight years ago. He came to Xavier. He was a partial qualifier.
So when I was the head coach there in my last year, he was a part of everything we did, except we couldn't travel and play in games. But we grew to know each other. This past spring when things moved in another direction for him, I'm grateful that he came with us. He had plenty of other opportunities. What he gives us is a dynamic scorer from the back court, somebody who believes in himself, has great confidence. So many times that confidence and belief is spread to his teammates.
The analogy I would use in describing Mark is he's kind of like that running college quarterback. You want to put him in a position to do the things that he does instinctively well, and we're constantly asking him to get better at some of the things that maybe aren't quite as natural.
But it's really worked out for us, I know that. We wouldn't be here today if Mark wasn't a part of our team.

Also Check Out

Stay tuned all week for more coverage of OSU basketball at the NCAA West Regional. More stuff to check out:

NCAA Notebook: California Dreamin’

Caryer: Mr. March Takes Bucks To LA

Craft’s Big Shot Sends OSU to Regional

Photo Gallery: Ohio State vs. Iowa State

Bucket All-Stars Pick All-Time OSU Basketball Team

What We Learned: OSU 78, Iowa State 75

Buckeyes Edge Iowa State (game story with postgame videos)

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