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Published: Wednesday, 3/17/2010

Buckeyes focused on studies, Gauchos

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

COLUMBUS - Before Ohio State can face UC Santa Barbara in the first round of the NCAA tournament this week, the Buckeyes have other challenges to confront.

Winter quarter final exams are under way, so philosophy and literature and statistics come before the Gauchos.

Ohio State won the Big Ten tournament championship in Indianapolis, beating Michigan on a last-second, near-halfcourt shot by Evan Turner, outlasting Illinois in double-overtime, and then burying Minnesota in the title game.

After three games in three days, Ohio State coach Thad Matta was more concerned about getting his team back for their academic obligations, and for a brief respite before the NCAA trip to Milwaukee to play Santa Barbara.

"They need a little bit of rest, and I need some rest," he said as the Big Ten tournament championship celebration wound down.

That title came on top of the Big Ten regular-season championship Ohio State won a share of with a 14-4 conference record. After the Buckeyes stumbled to a 1-3 start in the league, they went 13-1 the rest of the way, and then swept their three opponents in the conference tournament.

"After 21 straight battles, the war was decided, and we won the war," Matta said. "I couldn't be prouder of them. The guys did a great job of playing through adversity."

Ohio State (27-7) earned the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Regional, and was matched up with the 20-9 Gauchos, who won the Big West tournament championship to earn that league's automatic bid to the NCAA, and a No. 15 seed.

The Buckeyes said that after their exams, they would study UC Santa Barbara, a team they admittedly knew nothing about when the brackets were announced.

"We'll take some time to look at them and see what they are all about," Ohio State sophomore William Buford said. "I'm sure the coaches will have us well prepared for Santa Barbara, but it's going to come down to how we play. We just have to continue to play at the level we did in the Big Ten tournament, and then take it up another notch."

Ohio State junior Jon Diebler said the Buckeyes left Indianapolis a better team after answering the challenges the tournament presented.

"Sure, we're pretty tired now that it's over, but I think we showed we had the energy and focus to compete at a high level the whole way through," Diebler said. "I think we're in great condition, so we'll rest up a little, take care of our school work, and be ready to play on Friday. We got pushed really hard by everybody we faced in the Big Ten, and that will make us a better NCAA tournament team."

Matta, who played just six Buckeyes for any extended period during the conference tournament, and had Buford and several other starters never leave the floor through the three games until the final minute or so of the 90-61 rout of Minnesota, said his team's resiliency was impressive.

"It was amazing how hard they were playing, because I thought they were exhausted," Matta said.

Diebler said the Buckeyes, who lost to tiny Siena in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year, will take Santa Barbara as seriously as any other opponent.

"If you're in the tournament, that means you are a very good team, and even though we don't know much specifics about Santa Barbara, we know Santa Barbara is a good basketball team," Diebler said. "I think we are going into this with the mind-set that we have to focus everything on just that one game. We won't take any team lightly. We slipped up last year, so we have to learn from that."

If the Buckeyes defeat the Gauchos, they would face the winner of Friday's Oklahoma State-Georgia Tech game in Sunday's second round in Milwaukee.

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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