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NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Ohio State wary of deficits

The Buckeyes say they can't afford another deep hole against a confident No. 2 Memphis team that basks in underdog role.

March 24, 2007|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

SAN ANTONIO — Coach Thad Matta swears that digging holes and coming back is not part of the game plan for the Ohio State basketball team.

You just wouldn't know it by watching the way the Buckeyes have played the last two games, needing double-digit comebacks against Xavier and Tennessee in order to advance to today's South Regional final.

But advance they have, and the top-seeded Buckeyes will face No. 2 Memphis at 1:40 p.m. PDT at the Alamodome in a battle of teams that have the two longest winning streaks in the nation.

"I think if you look up 'living dangerously' in the dictionary, my picture would be plastered right next to it," Matta said. "In this tournament the two most important words are 'survive' and 'advance,' and we've been very, very fortunate the last couple of games to do those two things."

In a regional semifinal against Tennessee, Ohio State was down 20 in the first half and 17 at halftime, but came back to win, 85-84, extending its winning streak to 20 games. Against Xavier in the second round, the Buckeyes faced an 11-point deficit with less than eight minutes to play but sent the game to overtime and won.

"I'm not sure what is going on," Buckeyes guard Ron Lewis said. "I just think this team is just trying to keep playing. This team is just playing for every second on the clock, and somehow we're still standing."

Memphis, which has won a national-best 25 consecutive games, might not cave in like Tennessee and Xavier did. The Tigers have a suffocating defense and have limited opponents to an average of 62.2 points a game. That means they aren't prone to giving up points in bunches.

"With a team like Memphis, you don't want to get down early," Lewis said. "Getting down 17 or anything of that nature would be a mistake in this game."

Memphis is also playing with an us-against-the-world attitude because of a perceived lack of respect. Despite their seeding, so-called experts have picked the Tigers to lose in the last two rounds.

"That's what we like," Tigers leading scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts said. "We want to be the underdogs all the time. We hate when we hear somebody say Memphis has a chance to win."

While each team features strong guard play, the game could be decided in the paint, where Ohio State center Greg Oden looms. The 7-foot freshman leads the team in scoring and rebounding

But the Buckeyes have made their two comebacks mostly without Oden, who fouled out before overtime against Xavier and played only 18 minutes against Tennessee because of foul trouble.

Opponents are "just being more physical with me, and me being physical back," said Oden, who did not foul out of a game during the regular season. "But thanks to my teammates we're living another day."

The responsibility of stopping Oden tonight rests with 6-9 forward Joey Dorsey, a tenacious rebounder who averages 9.6 a game and who relishes the assignment.

"I wished this game, and I got my wish," Dorsey said. "It's going to be two great big men going at each other. I'm an underrated big man, and he's overrated as a big man. It's going to be a battle of the boards, and that's what's going to determine who's going to win."

Either that, or some kind of comeback by the Buckeyes.

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peter.yoon@latimes.com

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South Regional matchups

A look at today's South Regional championship game between Ohio State and Memphis:

*--* STARTERS OHIO STATE Ht. Wt. Stats Pos MEMPHIS Ht. Wt. Stats Ivan Harris 6-7 220 7.8 ppg F Robert Dozier 6-9 215 9.7 ppg Greg Oden 7-0 280 60.8% FGs C/F Joey Dorsey 6-9 260 9.6 rpg Mike Conley 6-1 180 6.2 apg G Willie Kemp 6-2 165 6.3 ppg Jr. Jamar Butler 6-2 205 83.7% FTs G Antonio Anderson 6-6 200 3.5 apg Ron Lewis 6-4 200 12.5 ppg G Chris 6-6 190 15.4 ppg Douglas-Roberts RESERVES Daequan Cook 6-5 210 10.3 ppg G Jeremy Hunt 6-5 210 13.7 ppg Othello 6-9 225 6.0 ppg F/G Andre Allen 5-10 205 3.1 apg Hunter David Lighty 6-6 220 3.5 ppg G Doneal Mack 6-5 170 7.3 ppg

HOW THEY MATCH UP

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* INSIDE -- The battle in the paint begins with Oden, Ohio State's leading scorer at 15.4 points per game and leading rebounder at 9.5 per game. He also averages 3.4 blocked shots, giving the Buckeyes one of the most intimidating middle men in the nation. Dorsey can't match Oden's height, but he has enough bulk to move Oden around, and he is a tenacious rebounder who is no stranger to playing against taller players. Dozier, who averages 6.1 rebounds a game, is also solid, but he'll be drawn outside against Harris, who shoots 40% on three-point shots. Cook and Hunter coming off the bench are Ohio State's second-leading rebounders, each at 4.6 per game.

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