After Arizona beat down on Harvard 74-51 to advance to the Sweet 16, the Wildcats didn’t know yet whom they’d be facing in Thursday’s regional semifinal in Los Angeles. It would either be 10-seed Iowa State or 2-seed Ohio State.
Still, assistant coach James Whitford couldn’t help talking about OSU point guard Aaron Craft.
“They have a great point guard in Aaron Craft,” Whitford said.
“He’s not a great scorer, but he gets everyone involved. He plays really hard, he’s a great competitor, he hustles, he’s a great passer and he really runs their team.”
Craft gave some credence to Whitford’s early scouting report on Sunday afternoon.
He scored 18 points with six assists, but it was a last-second, game-winning 3-pointer that carried the Buckeyes into a matchup with the Wildcats. It was OSU’s 10th straight win, and will mark its fourth straight appearance in the Sweet 16.
“The moment is definitely bigger than me,” Craft said in a post-game press conference. “As a team, we did a great job down the stretch finding a way to hold on. It just happened to be in my hands at the end of the game.”
On 18 occasions this season, Craft scored less than 10 points.
“I think we know I’m a defensive guy,” Craft said. “So I think I’m in the backyard three, two, one, taking a charge, or something like that.”
That’s the kind of player who can prove to be a thorn in Mark Lyons’ side on Thursday. A frustrated Lyons is one that starts forcing up contested shots and turning the ball over, so the matchup is certainly one to watch.
Against former Wildcat Lamont “Momo” Jones and Iona in Friday’s second round matchup, Craft was a pest. He had six steals, Iona had 19 turnovers and the Buckeyes won 95-70.
“He’s the best defensive player in the Big 10 and one of the best in the country,” Whitford said.
If Lyons can play like he did in Arizona’s first two tournament games — he had a career-high 27 points against Harvard, 23 against Belmont in the second round — Arizona should be OK.
“He’s just on right now,” Kevin Parrom said of Lyons. “He’s taking his shots and they’re going in.”
Here are a few more storylines to follow for Thursday’s game at Staples Center.
Battle of the Coaches
Get ready for the onslaught of Thad Matta and Sean Miller stories. The two are close friends — Miller reportedly texted Matta on Saturday night, “I’ll be waiting for you in LA.” Matta and Miller coached alongside each other as assistants on Herb Sendek’s staff at Miami (Ohio) in 1994-95.
After that, Miller went to Pittsburgh and North Caroline State as an assistant while Matta relocated to Butler as an assistant and head coach for five years. In 2001, Matta was hired as head coach at Xavier and hired Miller as the Musketeer’s first-ever associate head coach. When Matta left Xavier for Ohio State in 2004, Miller replaced him as head honcho, and the rest is history.
Matta had this to say about Miller and Arizona in a postgame interview with CBS Sports: “I know this: I know we’re playing the best team on the west coast in Arizona. Sean and I go way back, I’ve seen them play all year long and they are the best team on the West Coast. Now we gotta go out there and see what we can do.”
If his performance this season is any indication, you can’t stop OSU’s DeShaun Thomas.
He’s a 6-foot-7 forward and Ohio State’s best shooter, scorer and rebounder. He gets 19.6 points per game, 6.1 rebounds and 2.0 3-pointers per game, and has only scored less than 15 points three times this year — in 35 games.
And it’s not like he even struggles in OSU losses. In the Buckeyes’ seven losses, he scored 20.7 points per game and he’s had seven games with 24 points or more. You get the picture.
At 6-foot-7 Solomon Hill is the best bet to matchup with Thomas on defense, with maybe a little 6-foot-8 Brandon Ashley or the 6-foot-6 Kevin Parrom mixed in.
•This story was courtesy of the Arizona Daily Wildcat.