MILWAUKEE - The University of California Santa Barbara team Ohio State will face tonight in the first round of the NCAA tournament has had five days to dissect the Buckeyes and figure out what it will take to beat the Big Ten champions.
Ohio State has had the same amount of time to look at the Gauchos, the champions of the Big West. But all of that study won't make a big difference in the final outcome, Ohio State sophomore William Buford said.
"We took a pretty good look at them and the things they like to do, and I'm sure they did the same looking over us," Buford said. "That's an important part of the preparation, but it all comes down to us playing our game first and not worrying about every thing else. If we take care of that, I think we'll be fine."
The No. 2 seeded Buckeyes (27-7) practiced yesterday evening at the home of the NBA's Milwaukee
Bucks, the Bradley Center, where four games in the Midwest Regional will take place today. The winners of those four meet in two Sunday games, hoping to advance to next week's Sweet 16.
"They like to go up-tempo, play a lot of zone, and use their big guys off the bench," Buford said about UC Santa Barbara, the No. 15 seed in the Midwest. "They get most of their scoring from their guards, so we'll have to make sure we are out there defending them on every possession."
The Gauchos are led by sophomore Orlando Johnson, a 6-5 guard from Seaside, Calif., just north of Monterey. Johnson started his career at Loyola Marymount, then transferred to UC Santa Barbara and sat out last season.
This year Johnson won Big West player of the year honors after averaging 17.9 points per game and 5.4 rebounds. He was also the MVP of the conference tournament with 34 points, eight rebounds. and six assists in two games.
UC Santa Barbara was the champion of the regular season and the conference tournament in the Big West. The Gauchos (20-9) are in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.
Santa Barbara starts a relatively small lineup with no player over 6-foot-7, but 6-9 Sam Phippen, 6-9 Lucas Devenney, 6-10 Jon Pastorek and 7-3 Greg Somogyi all come off the bench.
"First and foremost, we'll have to do a great job defensively," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "It's a team effort of defending, and the big challenge for us is not giving them a lot of easy baskets, a lot of easy opportunities. You do that by taking care of the ball on offense, and taking great shots."
Ohio State junior Evan Turner, the Big Ten player of the year this season, said he expects Santa Barbara to use pressure to try and equalize things against the Buckeyes.
"They have some talented guards, and they seem like they want to try and press teams and get you to turn the ball over," he said. "We'll need to be patient and be smart and not get caught up in their pace or how they want to play the game. We need to stay in our game."
Santa Barbara coach Bob Williams said his team was thrilled to play in the NCAA tournament, and when the Gauchos drew the Buckeyes in the first round, the excitement spiked.
"This will be a great experience for our team," Williams said. "We will be playing against a player [Evan Turner] who many consider to be the best player in the country, and against a program with great tradition."
SOME HISTORY: UC Santa Barbara and Ohio State have met just twice before, with the Buckeyes prevailing both times. In the 1991-92 season, Ohio State played in Santa Barbara and came out on top by an 82-75 score. Two years later, Ohio State was a 79-56 winner in Columbus.
SHOO FLU: The Buckeyes have been dealing with more than a touch of the flu working its way around the locker room, but coach Thad Matta said yesterday that most of his players are back to full strength. Junior Jon Diebler was the hardest hit, missing practice on Tuesday because of illness.
"They appear to be better," Matta said. "They're putting more weight back on. Jon's the one that had it last, and we're trying to monitor everything and see that he's getting the right foods and hydration and all."
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The University of California Santa Barbara team Ohio State will face Friday night in the first round of the NCAA tournament has had five days to dissect the Buckeyes and figure out what it will take to beat the Big Ten champions.