When the Lakers return home, Kobe Bryant will be using LaQuinton Ross' locker.
As the highest-seeded of the four NCAA Tournament teams at Staples Center this week, Ohio State got the keys to the Lakers' plush locker room, and Ross, a sophomore reserve forward, somehow found temporary residence in Bryant's corner spot. Some of the magic apparently lingered.
Ross' 25-foot three-pointer with two seconds left broke a tie and gave the Buckeyes a 73-70 victory over Arizona in the West Regional semifinals on Thursday night.
"It feels great, man," said Ross, who scored 17 points. "I think this is what every player grows up looking at on TV, wanting to hit that big shot for an NCAA Tournament team. It just feels great right now."
Of course, this is nothing new for Ohio State (29-7), which advanced to play Wichita State (29-8) in Saturday’s regional final. Ninth-seed Wichita State knocked off 13th-seed La Salle, 72-58, in the other West Regional game Thursday.
The Buckeyes found themselves in the most comfortable of uncomfortable positions.
Four days earlier, Ohio State was tied with Iowa State when point guard Aaron Craft dribbled out the final seconds, then hit a 3-pointer from the top of the arc to send the Buckeyes into the Sweet 16.
This time, Craft passed and Ross found redemption. The Buckeyes, who trailed by 11 points in the first half, took the lead with a big push at the start of the second half and looked to have a comfortable six-point lead with 1:34 remaining.
Arizona fought back, and in the final minute, trailed 70-67. Craft's awkward layup attempt rolled off the rim, Arizona rebounded and Wildcats guard Mark Lyons drove for a layup and got fouled by Ross.
As the pro-Arizona crowd roared, Lyons made the free throw to tie the score with 21.8 seconds left, the last of his game-high 23 points.
All eyes turned to Craft as he dribbled at the top of the arc ... again. Would Craft drive, or pull up? Neither. Craft's stutter-step toward the basket drew two Arizona defenders and left Ross open, two steps behind the 3-point line. Craft passed to Ross, who didn't hesitate and made the winning shot.
"We switched (defensively) on probably 400 handoffs or ball screens in the game. We didn't switch the last one," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "Part of the reason he had a good look was that two (defenders) went with the ball."
Ohio State, which won its 11th consecutive game, didn't show much in the first half.
Revered for their defense, the Buckeyes looked slow as the more athletic Wildcats moved the ball quickly and got good looks from the perimeter. Arizona took an 11-point lead with seven minutes remaining, but Ohio State managed to reduce the deficit to four points at halftime.
"Guys were being selfish, not helping each other out," said Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas, who scored 20 points. "Coach said, 'Do what we do,' at halftime, and that's what we did."
Ohio State clamped down on defense. The Wildcats, who shot 50 percent from the field in the first half, shot 39.3 percent in the second half, including 1 of 10 from 3-point range.
The Buckeyes scored the first 10 points of the second half and led for the final 17 minutes.
By Rich Hammond - The Orange County Register (MCT)
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