Winners of 10 straight games, the Ohio State Buckeyes try to continue their strong play on Thursday as they clash with the Arizona Wildcats in the West Regional Semifinal of the 2013 NCAA Tournament at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The second seed in the region, Ohio State is taking part in the NCAA Tournament for the 25th time in program history and has a record of 47-23 to show for its efforts dating back to 1939. The Buckeyes, under the direction of head coach Thad Matta, last fell into the loss column back on Feb. 17 when they bowed to Wisconsin on the road, 71-49. Since then the team has rattled off several double-digit wins, and includes another successful run through the Big Ten Tournament and a title victory over those same Badgers (50-43).
OSU's road to the Sweet 16 began with a 95-70 victory over Iona last week and then a narrow 78-75 decision versus Iowa State, which included at least one questionable call late that apparently swung momentum in favor of a Buckeyes squad that is seeking the national title for the first time since 1960.
Meanwhile the Wildcats, winners of this event back in 1997 against Kentucky, they have a record of 48-26 in the tourney when taking into consideration a pair of appearances that had to be vacated. One of the top squads from the Pac-12 Conference through the non-conference schedule, Arizona was seeded fourth in the conference tournament and made it all the way to the semifinals before being booted by UCLA, 66-64.
Despite the defeat, the Wildcats were still awarded a No. 6 seed for the NCAA Tournament and used their high stature to take down Belmont (81-64) in the second round and then a pesky Harvard group (74-51) in the third round last Saturday.
It might be hard to believe, given the lengthy histories for both of these programs, but this meeting marks just the second ever between them. Ohio State won the previous encounter back in 1972 as part of the UCLAN Classic in Los Angeles ironically enough, 90-47. At the time OSU, which is currently 37-36 versus opponents from the Pac-12 Conference, was ranked sixth in the nation.
The winner of this meeting will be back in action on Saturday versus the survivor of the La Salle/Wichita State matchup for the right to advance to the Final Four in Atlanta.
Arizona jumped all over Harvard in the third round of the tourney, delivering a 17-2 scoring run right out of the gate in order to put the Crimson in a deep hole, en route to the 23-point decision. Shooting an impressive 12-of-17 from the floor, Mark Lyons tied a career high with a game-high 27 points for Arizona, while Solomon Hill registered a double-double consisting of 13 points and a game-high 10 boards. Over the course of his 34 minutes of action, Nick Johnson was somewhat reserved as he posted seven points, six boards and four assists.
Over the last 10 games the Wildcats are shooting an impressive 40.4 percent from behind the 3-point line, compared to 33.8 percent for the competition. Despite being outscored at the free-throw line in those outings, Arizona has still held a scoring edge of 8.6 ppg versus the opposition. Lyons is responsible for 15.8 ppg over the last 10, although his efforts out on the perimeter have resulted in just 28.6 percent accuracy. Hill (11.9 ppg, 5.4 ppg) and Johnson (10.2 ppg, 40 assists) have also been key figures at the offensive end of the floor.
The Buckeyes went into the meeting with Iowa State never having lost to the Cyclones in five previous encounters and the trend continued, although it was a contentious final few minutes as OSU needed an Aaron Craft 3-pointer in the last second to bring home the victory. For Craft, who finished with 18 points and six assists, that triple was his only attempt beyond the arc in the contest. Deshaun Thomas accounted for a game-high 22 points and pulled down five boards for the Buckeyes, followed by LaQuinton Ross with 17 points off the bench in 21 minutes of action.
A starter in every game this season for Ohio State, Thomas is the top scorer on the team and in the Big Ten with his 19.7 ppg. Scoring in double digits in every game in 2012-13, Thomas is now tied for second on OSU's all-time NCAA Tournament scoring list with William Buford at 162 points. Unfortunately, the only other double-digit scorer for the Buckeyes at the moment is Craft with his 10.0 ppg, which means he is just as likely to have a lackluster scoring effort as he is being an influential scorer. More importantly, Craft is first on the unit with 165 assists and teams with Shannon Scott (140 assists) to drive the squad.