Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham
LOS ANGELES -- Upon arriving at the Staples Center for Ohio State's Sweet 16 matchup with Arizona, LaQuinton Ross had his eyes set on something special. As the Buckeyes filed into the dressing room that is typically reserved for the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers, the Buckeyes sophomore forward called dibs on the locker that is regularly used by the team's star guard, Kobe Bryant.
The future Hall of Famer can rest assured that his locker was left in good hands this weekend, as it was Ross who stole the show in second-seeded Ohio State's (29-7, 13-5) 73-70 win over No. 6 seed Arizona (27-8, 12-6). Ross' second half effort against the Wildcats on Thursday night was superb, but it was his final shot that will be forever remembered.
With the score tied at 70 and 21.8 seconds remaining in regulation, Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft brought the ball up the court with no shot clock to worry about. The situation was eerily similar to just four days ago, when it was Craft's buzzer-beating three-pointer that lifted Ohio State to a win over Iowa State.
The Buckeyes ran the same play that succeeded against the Cyclones, and for the second time in as many games, Craft made the right read. But rather than take the shot himself, the junior guard dished the ball off to an open Ross, who drained the game-winning shot from a foot beyond the three-point arc.
"I like to credit my coaches for the play. It was similar to the play we ran last game. We like to get the big that's pick‑and‑roll," Ross said after the game. "It so happened they messed up on the switch right there, and I was able to knock down the shot."
While Ross attempted to deflect the praise in the post-game press conference, the fact remains that the Buckeyes likely wouldn't have been in the position to make a game-winner if not for the play from the emerging sophomore.
In arguably the best game of his college career, Ross scored 17 points- 14 of which came in the second half- while helping Ohio State rally from a six-point deficit at halftime. Scoring in a variety of ways- from threes to scoop shots to free throws, Ross put his team on his back down the stretch, scoring nine consecutive points with less than eight minutes remaining in the game.
"It's great, man. Especially when you know all platers and coaches have trust in you," Ross said. "I think that's what a player feeds on. Those big moments when they know they can count on you, that is a great moment."
With the Mississippi native now having scored 17 points in each of his past two games, the Buckeyes coaching staff is becoming more comfortable in relying on Ross, something that they couldn't always say was the case. After coming to school late last year as an academic non-qualifier, Ross played sparingly, and even this season, he found himself playing as few as three minutes in OSU's Jan. 13 win over Michigan.
Lately, however, Ross has risen to the occasion, starting in the Big Ten Tournament, where he became a consistent threat from beyond the three-point arc. Ohio State's Thad Matta credited Ross' newfound confidence to a newfound mindset, which has made it easier for the Buckeyes' head coach to play 6-foot-8 forward in pressure situations like the ones that they faced this week.
"He's engaged himself in all of the little things, and that's made him a better basketball player in terms of practice, bringing an attitude to practice," Matta said. "Bringing just an overall mindset that he's in. He's really become prideful in the little things in his game and it's really propelled him to be a better basketball player. I'm proud of him."
The No. 43 recruit in the 2011 class, it's no secret that Ross could hold the key to Ohio State's success not just in the Elite Eight or Final Four, but in a run for a potential national title. But given how far he's come in the past two seasons, it shouldn't come as a surprise that he is currently just trying to enjoy his moment, and his locker.
"This is what every player grows up looking at on TV and wants to hit that big shot, wants to win the game and hit the big shot in the NCAA Tournament or the NBA," Ross said. "It just feels great to be here right now."
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