LOS ANGELES: LaQuinton Ross hit the tie-breaking 3-pointer with two seconds to play, and Ohio State advanced to the brink of its second consecutive Final Four appearance with a 73-70 victory over Arizona on Thursday night in the West Regional semifinals.
Ross, the Buckeyes’ remarkable reserve, scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half for the second-seeded Buckeyes (29-7), who rallied from an early 11-point deficit and weathered the sixth-seeded Wildcats’ late charge for their 11th consecutive victory since mid-February.
Deshaun Thomas scored 20 points for Ohio State, and Aaron Craft added 13 before ceding the Buckeyes’ final shot to Ross. Craft hit an awfully similar 3-pointer against Iowa State last Sunday to send the Buckeyes forward.
Mark Lyons’ acrobatic three-point play for the Wildcats (27-8) had tied it with 21.8 seconds left.
Craft dribbled down the clock and gave it to Ross, who coolly drilled his second 3-pointer and set off a wild celebration in the Ohio State section of the Arizona-dominated crowd.
On Saturday, Ohio State will face the winner of the late game between underdogs Wichita State and La Salle. As the only top-eight seed left in the West, the Buckeyes would be Atlanta-bound with one more win.
Sam Thompson added 11 points for the Buckeyes, who trailed for nearly the entire first half before pushing ahead and nursing a small lead throughout the final minutes.
Lyons scored 23 points including his gutsy three-point play for the Wildcats, who rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second half before falling just short of their second NCAA regional final in four years. Solomon Hill added 16 points in his native Los Angeles, but the rest of Arizona combined for just 31 points on 10-for-29 shooting.
After Arizona jumped out to that early 11-point lead, Ohio State gathered its game and mounted a 33-13 surge spanning halftime, taking a 53-43 lead with 11 minutes left. The Wildcats finally answered, but Ross kept the Buckeyes in front with nine consecutive points down the stretch.
Craft became a tournament hero last Sunday against Iowa State, hitting a last-second 3-pointer and drawing a questionable charge moments earlier in the Buckeyes’ 78-75 win. Ross had his turn in the spotlight at Staples Center, and he didn’t flinch.
The game was the second NCAA Tournament meeting between Ohio State coach Thad Matta and Arizona’s Sean Miller, whose friendship goes back two decades to their time together at Miami of Ohio and Xavier.
Despite losing to UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals to cap an inconsistent stretch of play, Arizona got a No. 6 seed and blew out Belmont and Harvard in the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend, reaching the regional semifinals for the 15th time.
Ohio State hasn’t lost since Feb. 17, beating Indiana on the road before winning the Big Ten Tournament. The Buckeyes had much more trouble than Arizona in their first two NCAA games, but they’re showing a knack for last-minute heroics at the perfect time.
Arizona took the lead on its first basket, a 3-pointer from Lyons in the opening minute, and held it throughout a slow-moving first half featuring 19 fouls. With superior ball movement and scoring balance, the Wildcats eventually pushed the margin to 31-20 on Nick Johnson’s 3-pointer with seven minutes left in the half.
Ohio State finally awoke when Craft returned to the game after sitting early with two fouls, trimming the margin to 38-34 by halftime. The Buckeyes finished the half on a 14-7 run capped by the second 3-pointer from Thomas, who scored 16 of their 34 first-half points with his steady all-around game.
Thompson’s layup with 17:39 left gave Ohio State its first lead since 2-0, and the Buckeyes opened the second half with a 10-0 run while holding Arizona scoreless for more than 6½ minutes spanning halftime.