If mental notes from film session took hold of the Arizona Wildcats on Thursday, the second-to-last play that doomed them showed it. The shot by LaQuinton Ross that broke a 70-all tie that won the Sweet 16 battle for the Ohio State Buckeyes said it all.
It was a simple pick and pop play.
Aaron Craft used one against Iowa State this past week to draw a switch, and big man Georges Niang found himself on the Buckeye guard. As Arizona likely knew as they faced Ohio State, Craft hit a three-pointer as the big man gave him too much airspace.
This is an aside, but an important one to understand how cold these Buckeyes are: Craft had reason to put a dagger in Niang. In the game, a little pre-timeout bump led to Craft slapping away a Niang attempt at civility. He likely didn't forget that more-than-minor altercation. Similarly, Ross had reason to hit a big shot. He, after all, had fouled Mark Lyons driving to the cup a play earlier, giving Lyons the chance to tie the game on an And 1.
Back to the play.
Ross' man, UA freshman Grant Jerrett held his ground on Craft as Nick Johnson, who was assigned Craft, recovered. It was a split-second too long, but to fault Jerrett would be foolish. Those film sessions from this past week? He likely remembered Craft burning Niang. He didn't want to let Craft get to the hoop, either.
So as Ross popped, there was space to get off a shot. Mark Lyons could have made a little better run at Ross, arguably, but instincts told him Ross could make an extra pass to his man on the left wing. Lyons made a flash at Ross, but then jumped back toward his man, likely with that on the mind. Had he made a full contest of Ross' shot, it could have been a foul but might have been enough to force a miss. As it was, however, Jerrett also recovered and with his length arguably made the shot quite the contested one.
Solomon Hill, meanwhile, was stuck on the deadly shooting Deshaun Thomas on the right side of the floor. So even if Lyons rotated, there would be no stopping the Buckeyes from potentially making an extra pass or even two -- remember, UA still had two more seconds to score -- for perhaps a close two-pointer.
Simply put, the shot was a tough one. Ohio State again showed some mettle in making up for its mistakes that had allowed the Wildcats back into the game in the first place.
And Arizona was shipped home despite looking as dangerous of a team there is outside perhaps Ohio State, Syracuse and Louisville.
Ohio State stymies Arizona's inside-out game
One of the reasons the Wildcats' offense sputtered was the lack of an inside game. Center Kaleb Tarczewski only got off one shot, and it was both because of clever defense by the Buckeyes and a small lineup they put out on the court.
Unlike the small ball teams Arizona had faced up to this point, OSU did a fine job of fronting the post and preventing any entry passes at all. Only a few attempts by Brandon Ashley got anywhere, and the matchup problem of Zeus, again, took him out of the game.
That led to many timeouts in the early portion of the second half as the Wildcats could only think to put up three-point jumpers. Not all of them were bad, but compounding the issue of them being missed was OSU's ability to turn long rebounds into easy points. That was their M.O., and Arizona played right into their hands.
After the third used timeout by Sean Miller, you could see the Wildcats finally playing like they had in the first half -- although, Ohio State certainly was playing much better individual defense. Mark Lyons drew two quick fouls driving to the hoop, Hill got going and Kevin Parrom looked like he was advised never to shoot a three again.
That could be the big issue.
Parrom missed what would've been a huge three on a pass from Hill later in the game, and it's a wonder if he hesitated. The senior went 1-of-5 from three-point range and at one point began pump-faking and driving the ball before the noted miss.
Solomon Hill goes out on top
Maybe Solomon Hill isn't going out on top of the college basketball world, but there couldn't have been a better performance an NBA draft perspective. Never in a game has he played so assertively.
A 9-0 run by Hill in the heart of the second half kept the Wildcats punching back, and it included an array of NBA-ready moves. There were blow-bys and finishes through contact. There were fadeaway jumpers over the wrong shoulder.
Then there was the outright playmaking. Hill finished with 16 points and three assists, and the latter category should have been a bigger number. Hill often broke down his own defender, spun in the lane and split help defense to set up open shots for his teammates.
A find of Kevin Parrom in the left corner of the court ended in a miss that was a prime opportunity for Arizona to grab the momentum even more coming down the stretch. And a play where Hill fell down on a drive ended in him throwing a lazer to a wide-open Brandon Ashley that stopped the bleeding during a drought early in the second half.