LOS ANGELES — To Solomon Hill, the last minute of Arizona’s 73-70 loss to Ohio State felt like an hour.
“It’s tense,” he said. “That’s kind of how it felt.”
The 6th-seeded Wildcats trailed No. 2-seed OSU by six with a minute and a half to go.
One minute, 12 seconds and seven Mark Lyons points later, Arizona knotted things up at 70.
The Buckeyes took control with 21 seconds left, and OSU point guard Aaron Craft brought the ball up the floor, waiting as the clock wound down.
Craft has done it before; he hit the game-winning shot against Iowa State a round earlier. He was supposed to take the final shot.
Instead, Craft gave it up to LaQuinton Ross, the Buckeyes’ sixth-man who had killed the Wildcats with 14 points in the second half. Sophomore Nick Johnson was on Craft, freshman Grant Jerrett on Ross. But Arizona fumbled the switch on the pick and roll and Ross was left wide open.
Nailed it. Arizona’s season, over. 73-70.
“The last shot of the game,” head coach Sean Miller said. “We switched probably 400 handoffs and ball screens in the game. We didn’t switch the last one. That’s the other part. Players make big plays. Teams make big plays.”
With 2.1 seconds left on the clock, Arizona didn’t have time to dribble up the court or run a set play. A last second heave to Hill was swatted out of bounds by the Buckeyes — and with it, the Wildcats’ season.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though.
The UA (22-for-52 shooting) and OSU (22-for-52) were nearly identical from the floor, and the Wildcats only lost the turnover battle 11 to 8 despite going against Craft (13 points, five assists) and the Buckeyes’ opportunistic defense.
Arizona led for all but 34 seconds in the first half, going up by as much as 11 points at one point. The second half was a different story.
OSU came out of the locker room firing, outscoring the Wildcats 19-5 in the first eight minutes. The Buckeyes never trailed again. Arizona didn’t even hit its first second half basket until Hill dished it to freshman Brandon Ashley for a mid-range jumper with 14:38 on the clock.
“They came out in the second half with a bang,” said senior forward Kevin Parrom, who had seven points and seven rebounds. “We weren’t expecting that. Guys have to play hard every possession. They came out in the second half and smacked us right in the face. That’s the game. First three minutes of our second half was key for them.”
Hill and Lyons, both seniors, practically willed the Wildcats to a win all on their own.
A three-pointer by OSU’s Deshaun Thomas (20 points) gave his team a 10-point lead at 53-43, but Hill answered.
Hill first hit a fadeaway jumper with two men on him, and on the next drive he took the ball from the free throw line, cut in toward the basket and slammed it down with authority.
He followed that up with a free throw, another jumper and a layup to score nine straight and get the Wildcats within four at the 8:42 mark.
Hill finished with 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting, three assists and three rebounds.
“My teammates put me in a good position, and guys found me,” Hill said. “I made their job easier by cutting hard, and guys were screening for me. It just made it that much easier.”
Lyons started the game off strong with 10 points in the first nine minutes. But he didn’t hit another shot until 6:31 left in the game. The lack of production didn’t faze the senior as he bounced back in a big way. In the waning moments of the game, Lyons scored Arizona’s final seven points, including an and-one layup to tie the game before Ross’s heroics.
“He’s done it all season,” said Ashley, who had four points. “For big games, he just shows up.”
Lyons topped off a prolific run of scoring in the NCAA tournament with a game-high 23 points; he had 50 in the two previous games against Belmont and Harvard in Salt Lake City.
Now, OSU moves on to the next round of the tournament: It will face Wichita State at Staples Center on Saturday. Arizona is left waiting for another season.