Arizona falls to Ohio State, but the future is bright
LOS ANGELES – After a season full of late-game heroics and last-second shots, Arizona found itself on the wrong end of one to end their season in the Sweet 16.
LaQuinton Ross nailed a deep three-pointer with 2.1 seconds left on the clock to give Ohio State a 73-70 win that sucked the air out of a pro-Arizona crowd at the Staples Center in the first ever NCAA tournament matchup between the two programs.
“The one thing that I really had my eye on was LaQuinton Ross. I really believe if you look at Ohio State’s (11 game) winning streak, when he enters the game, it changes things in a very positive way for their team,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said after the game.
For a moment it looked like the Wildcats were going to live up to their "Cardiac 'Cats" nickname when Mark Lyons grabbed a nice feed from Nick Johnson for a layup and a foul. He calmly sank the free throw to tie the game at 70-70 with 21 seconds left, completing a furious comeback over the final few minutes of the game.
Arizona played solid defense on Ohio State's final possession, forcing the Buckeyes to play deep behind the arc as the clock wound down. However the Wildcats failed to switch on the handoff, allowing Ross (17 points on 5-8 shooting) space to sink an uncontested game-winner.
[Related Nick Johnson postgame interview]
“We switched probably 400 handoffs and ball screens in the game. We didn’t switch the last one,” Miller said. “Part of the reason he had such a great look at the end was two guys went with the ball when, in reality, we’ve switched every single handoff and ball screen from the opening tip to that one right there.”
Lyons led Arizona with 23 points. Senior Solomon Hill added 16, including a personal 9-3 run featuring a thunderous dunk to cut it to four late.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet that the season is over and I’m done at the University of Arizona,” Hill said. “I think we competed well. I think we did better than some people thought we were supposed to. We had some lapses in the year but we picked it up when we were supposed to.”
Arizona led 38-34 at halftime after shooting 50 percent from the field but failed to come out strong from the locker room. Ohio State opened the 2nd half on a 16-4 run to retake the lead and never let it go until Lyons’ free throw.
“To our team’s credit, we’ve had a way of doing it,” Miller said of his squad’s will to win late. “We hung in there, fought back and at the end of the game it’s 70-70 on the final possession. How you get there in this tournament, it can happen a number of ways.”
[Related Solomon Hill postgame interview]
For Arizona, the loss was hard to take. Yet there also was a sense surrounding the team of good things to come.
“We won 27 games and our team did a lot of remarkable things," Miller said. "My focus is on being back here next year and trying to break through.
"Sometimes you have to knock at that door a few times to break it in. I like the group that we have coming in and the opportunities that we have to add to the guys that we have. Hopefully we’ll be a mainstay in this tournament like Arizona has been for 25 years.”