Published March 29, 2013
| Sports Network
Los Angeles, CA – For the second consecutive game, Ohio State needed a clutch shot to stay alive in the NCAA Tournament.
Now the Buckeyes are one step away from their second straight trip to the Final Four.
LaQuinton Ross scored 14 of Ohio State's final 17 points, and his 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds remaining boosted the Buckeyes to a 73-70 triumph over Arizona in a West Regional semifinal.
On Sunday, it was Aaron Craft playing hero by hitting the winning 3-pointer in the final second of a 78-75 triumph over Iowa State. Four days later, it was Ross' turn, as the sophomore came alive in the final eight minutes.
"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," Ross said. "It just feels great to be here right now."
Winners of 11 straight games, the second-seeded Buckeyes (29-7) will play in the Elite Eight Saturday versus ninth-seeded Wichita State, a 72-58 winner over La Salle. The Buckeyes lost to Kansas in the Final Four last year.
One more victory, and Thad Matta's team will gain a trip to Atlanta.
Deshaun Thomas scored 20 points, Craft had 13 and Sam Thompson finished with 11 for the Buckeyes, but the big story was Ross, who finished with 17 points.
Mark Lyons scored 23 points and Solomon Hill added 16 for the sixth-seeded Wildcats (27-8), who had blowout wins over Belmont and Harvard in their first two games of the tourney, but failed to hold an 11-point first-half lead against the Buckeyes.
Lyons drove in for a layup with 1:07 left to cut Ohio State's margin to 70-67. The Buckeyes called timeout with 43 seconds left, then Craft missed a layup high off the glass.
Lyons raced the other way, received a pass from Nick Johnson and was fouled by Ross while sinking a layup with 21.8 seconds left. After the made free throw tied the game, Craft had the ball in his hands, but passed up an opportunity to win the game in favor of Ross.
"It was similar to the play we ran last game," Ross said. "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."
Craft dribbled at the top of the key and delivered the ball to Ross, who nailed a deep 3-ball from left of the arc for the deciding points.
"It was a great shot by him," Hill said of Ross. "But I did anticipate Craft driving to the hole, and he faked the drive and kicked it out for a good shot. He's always making plays at the end of the game for his team."
Hill's ensuing pass was deflected away by Ohio State's Lenzelle Smith Jr as time expired.
Despite the emotional finish, right after the game, Lyons shook hands with Ross and the two had a light moment at Staples Center.
"I knew him from camp this summer," Lyons said. "So he's like a friend of mine. At the end of the game I just told him I can't stand you and just laughed at him. He's a good guy. He's a great player, and that's one of my friends. So it was just a little joke that we had."
Ross hit the winning shot in a home arena one of the NBA's greatest players. Turns out, Ross changed at the locker normally occupied by Kobe Bryant of the Lakers.
"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," Ross said. "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."
Hill plowed into Thomas for a layup and an 8-2 Arizona lead nearly 3 1/2 minutes into the game. The Buckeyes got within 14-13, but the Wildcats again pulled away and pushed the advantage to 26-17 following Johnson's dunk with just under nine minutes left in the first half.
Two free throws from Kevin Parrom with nearly 6 1/2 minutes to go in the opening period had Arizona in front 33-22, but the Buckeyes rallied to get within 38-34 at the half after Thomas drained a 3-point shot with 1:10 left.
"I think the biggest thing for us was in the second half we defended," Matta said. "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. I thought once we got everybody involved defensively, that was huge for us."
Thompson's layup with 17:39 remaining finally pushed the Buckeyes into the lead at 40-38, and Ohio State extended its run to 31-10 following its first- half deficit. Thomas capped the burst with a 3-pointer for a 53-43 difference with about 11 minutes left.
The Wildcats were able to stay within striking distance thanks to some OSU turnovers, but still looked like they had little chance after Craft went 1-of-2 from the charity stripe with 1:18 left for a 70-65 score.
"It would have been interesting to see if it would have gone into overtime," said Arizona coach Sean Miller, who coached Xavier when the Musketeers lost to the Buckeyes in overtime in the 2007 NCAA Tournament. "But the last time I coached against Ohio State, very similar. A three that went in at the end, and this time it won the game. The last time it went into overtime. But I'm proud of our guys' effort. We tried hard."
Thomas hit half of his 14 shots ... Thompson and Smith each had eight rebounds ... Lyons and Hill combined to go 13-of-23 from the field, but the remainder of the Wildcats went 10-of-29.