Buckeyes’ Matta’s comfort zone east of the Mississippi River

Ohio State head coach Thad Matta watches during practice at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Ohio State head coach Thad Matta watches during practice at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES — Three time zones and 2,300 miles away from Columbus, the lights of Hollywood may as well be on the other side of the universe for Ohio State coach Thad Matta.

Buckeye fans on the West Coast got a rare look at their basketball team in Thursday night’s regional semifinal at Staples Center.

Matta, you see, doesn’t love L.A. Or anywhere beyond the Midwest, for that matter.

OSU’s thrilling 73-70 victory over Arizona marked its first game west of the Central Time Zone in Matta’s nine seasons in Columbus — and the first since the Buckeyes fell at the University of San Francisco in 2003. Their farthest previous excursion west under Matta was to San Antonio for a 2007 regional.

Matta’s back problems make long flights a struggle while he worries about cross-country trips jolting his team out of rhythm.

"If I can keep it kind of Midwest or south, I would probably prefer that," he said.

Arizona coach Sean Miller is not surprised, recalling his former boss as a homebody.

"When we would go recruiting together at Xavier, we could be as far as eight hours away, and it could be 10 o'clock at night, and he would give you that look like, ’Why don't we just get home?’ " said Miller, who worked under Matta for four years. "And you'd just say to yourself, ’Why don't we just stay in the hotel and drive tomorrow morning or fly?’

"But it was always drive, and it was always there and back. He doesn't like to go far from home. ... I guess if there's one small advantage we have, we have him in a place that he's not real familiar with, a long way from home."

TIGHT CALL: The officials made it clear early the Buckeyes weren't in the Big Ten anymore.

A crew with quick-trigger whistles sent four players to the bench with early foul trouble, including OSU's Aaron Craft. 

The defensive stopper was was whistled for his second foul with 9:32 left in the first half and the Buckeyes trailing 24-17 — a deficit that ballooned to 11 for OSU in the three minutes Craft sat. But the game changed upon Craft's return, with the Buckeyes closing the half on a 14-7 run.

The refs called it tight both ways from the start. 

Arizona was called for its seventh foul of the half while the Wildcats joined OSU in the penalty situation minutes later.

LATE ARRIVALS: How California cool was the atmosphere at tip off?

Staples Center was about half full when the game started at 4:47 local time while entire sections of the upper deck sat empty. Yet befitting the city's late-arriving mandate — and an eternal snarl of traffic — the 19,000-seat arena gradually filled in and the competing shades of red-clad fans gave the place a tourney feel.

Though attendance was not announced, the arena seemed a couple thousand fans shy of a sellout.

OLD FRIEND: The Buckeyes encountered a familiar face on the opposing bench.

Former walk-on Danny Peters is Arizona’s assistant director of basketball operations, responsible for the Wildcats’ video scouting. The son of former OSU assistant Dan Peters, who spent five seasons on Matta’s staff, he was a student manager for the Buckeyes in 2006 and joined the roster the next year. Peters appeared in 35 games over four seasons at OSU before becoming a graduate assistant at Arizona in 2010.