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Oden is `real' big for Buckeyes

With a strong second half, freshman leads Ohio State to a 92-76 victory over Memphis and Final Four berth.

March 25, 2007|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

SAN ANTONIO — So, Ohio State can win without digging a double-digit hole and climbing out.

And Greg Oden really is a game-changing difference maker.

Consecutive unsteady performances by the Buckeyes and their 7-foot center in the NCAA tournament had raised questions about Oden and the Buckeyes, but both made believers out of the doubters Saturday in a 92-76 victory over Memphis in the South Regional final at the Alamodome.

Ohio State grabbed control early and Oden carried the team late as the Buckeyes (34-3) extended their win streak to 21, ended that of Memphis (33-4) at 25 and clinched a spot in the Final Four in Atlanta, where they will play the winner of today's game between North Carolina and Georgetown.

And the Buckeyes, who had lost a little swagger since ending the regular season as the nation's top-ranked team, will go there having reestablished themselves as a premier team with the nation's most dominant post player.

"There might have been some doubt about that after the last couple of games, yeah," Buckeyes Coach Thad Matta said. "But this game, I think you saw the real Ohio State and, for the most part, the real Greg Oden."

The touted freshman center had been relegated to the role of spectator because of foul trouble in the last two games. He was in a similar position Saturday, when he picked up his second foul with 9:14 left in the first half and sat out until halftime and then picked up his third foul less than three minutes into the second half.

When he returned with 12:38 to play, Memphis led, 56-51. A couple of minutes later, Oden went on a five-minute tear during which he scored eight points, blocked a shot and drew a momentum-changing intentional foul on Memphis guard Chris Douglas-Roberts.

With 5:40 to play, Ohio State led, 71-64, and had control of the game. The Buckeyes then secured the victory by making 18 consecutive free throws in the final 3:47. Oden finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and a block in only 24 minutes.

"Oden, when he was in there, dominated us," Memphis Coach John Calipari said. "Blocking shots and having a presence. We were relegated to shooting threes, which we didn't do half bad, but that's a hard way to stay in a game with a team like that."

Oden fouled out in regulation when Ohio State rallied from an 11-point deficit against Xavier in a second-round overtime victory, then played only 18 minutes because of foul problems when the Buckeyes overcame a 17-point halftime deficit in the regional semifinal victory over Tennessee.

"When I got in there, I got to contribute and that's something I wanted to do," Oden said.

Oden's biggest play came with 9:43 to play and his team down, 60-57. He grabbed a rebound after a missed three-pointer and had an open look at a layup. Douglas-Roberts grabbed Oden around the waist to prevent the dunk, but Oden's shot dropped and referees called the intentional foul.

After Oden made the foul shot and missed the second free throw, Ohio State maintained possession based on the intentional-foul rule. Jamar Butler made two free throws, giving Ohio State five points on the possession. The Buckeyes left their end of the court with a 62-60 lead and did not trail again.

"It changed the whole complexion of the game," Calipari said of the intentional foul. "It put fire in them and took the wind out of our sails."

When Oden was out, guards Mike Conley Jr. and Ron Lewis carried the team as they have the last two games. Lewis had 22 points, including 10 of 10 free throws. Conley had 19.

Memphis stayed in the game with three-point shooting. The Tigers made 10 of 22 from beyond the arc but only three of 12 in the second half. Jeremy Hunt led Memphis with 26 points. Douglas-Roberts had 14.

peter.yoon@latimes.com

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