Survive, Advance, and LaQuinton

The Buckeyes don’t make it easy on their fans.  But they are still dancing!

The win tonight against Arizona was a tough, hard-fought battle — just what you would expect from two great programs and two deep teams.  Arizona looked very good for most of the game and built a big lead in the first half.  But the Buckeyes rode Sam Thompson and Deshaun Thomas — whose icy shots kept Ohio State within range — and stayed close in the first half.  The Buckeyes then played nails defense to start the second half, Aaron Craft made some great plays, the Buckeyes got out to a lead, built it, and then held on as their latest clutch shooter, LaQuinton Ross, made bucket after bucket to keep the Buckeyes ahead.  Ross eventually made the game winner that advanced the Buckeyes to the Elite 8.

I give lots of credit to Arizona, which played a tremendous, gutty game — as befits a gutty team with a gutty coach.  But the Buckeyes made the shots and now get the chance to move on, and the Wildcats have to go home.

LaQuinton Ross is my new hero . . . but boy, watching these games is tough duty.

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Shockers, Wildcats, And Explorers

Tomorrow night Ohio State will continue the NCAA Tournament by playing in the West regionals in Los Angeles.  Four teams — the Wildcats, the Shockers, the Explorers, and the Buckeyes — will vie for one coveted spot in the Final Four.  So, the regional features ferocious felines, hard-working wheat harvesters, intrepid adventurers, . . . and poisonous nuts.  I’m rooting for the nuts, of course.

We’re to the point in the season where every team still playing is very good, and very scary.  The Buckeyes’ first opponent, Arizona, certainly fits that bill.  For years, Arizona has been one of the premier programs in college basketball.  This year the Wildcats, seeded sixth in the West, are 27-7 and crushed their first two opponents in the NCAA Tournament.  They are led by three players averaging more than 10 points a game —  guards Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson and forward Solomon Hill — and have lots of size on the inside.  Equally important during high-drama tournament games, Arizona has a number of seniors on its roster who can be expected to provide steady leadership during the high-stress moments.  Arizona’s talented and deep roster appears to present a number of match-up problems for Ohio State.  To top things off, the Wildcats’ coach, Sean Miller, is a Thad Matta protege who knows Ohio State’s coach well, and Arizona will have a home court advantage of sorts by playing in neighboring California.  All told, I think Arizona will pose an enormous challenge for the Buckeyes.

The other game pits two teams that have nothing to lose, because no one expected them to get this far.  LaSalle, which had a “play-in” game, has already won three games in the Tournament, including squeakers over Kansas State and Ole Miss.  Wichita State, on the other hand, pulverized Pitt and then upset top-ranked Gonzaga.  Expect both teams to be playing loose and with reckless abandon; their game should be fun to watch.

The Buckeyes’ game, on the other hand, won’t be fun to watch for those of us who are true fans.  We’ll be seriously into it, with every Buckeye bucket a cause for celebration and every Arizona score like a hard punch to the gut.  I’ll watch with angst and adrenalin because I’ve truly enjoyed this season of OSU basketball, and I don’t want it to end just yet.  Let’s go, Bucks!