LaQuinton Ross Pays Tribute to Kobe with Cold-Blooded Performance at Staples Center
By Brandon Castel
LOS ANGELES — LaQuinton Ross didn’t have to beat a double-team on Thursday night. He didn’t have to twist and turn through a sea of defenders or hit an impossible shot over the outstretched fingers of a defensive stopper.
He didn’t scowl or pop his jersey after watching the ball go through the hoop on the biggest shot of his life. He didn’t have to do any of that to come away with his best Kobe Bryant impression during a 73-70 victory that sent Ohio State on to the Elite Eight.
Photo by Jim Davidson
He was cool. He was calm, fearless as he went up for the final shot in a tie ballgame. Nothing on his mind but victory. Nothing in his way but an open look at the basket, that and his own nerves.
“I thought it was in,” he said in the locker room after the game.
“It felt good coming off my hands. I was able to set my feet and hold my follow-through.”
The young sophomore who barely played as a freshman last year had just committed an unforgivable sin. He fouled Arizona guard Mark Lyons on a layup with a three-point lead in the final 30 seconds of the game.
It was critical error, the kind that typically costs teams like Ohio State a chance to play another game this time of year. It very well could have on Thursday. If this game gets to overtime, there’s no telling what happens.
Only Ross wasn’t going to let it get there, not with a chance to end it. Not in Kobe Bryant’s house, on his floor – almost the exact same spot where Bryant banked in a last-second three to stun the Miami Heat back in 2009.
“This is what every player grows up looking at on TV and wants to hit that big shot,” Ross said.
“Every (kid) wants to win the game and hit the big shot in the NCAA Tournament or the NBA. It just feels great to be here right now.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
In the same building where Bryant has hit so many big shots during his 17-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. Same locker too.
“I called dibs on Kobe's locker,” he said with a smile.
“I had to find out I had the locker. He was one of my favorite players growing up, one I modeled my game after.”
He certainly had it all going in the second half of Thursday’s game, despite the fact he didn’t realize he had randomly selected Bryant’s locker without even knowing it.
“Once he figured that out, he’s been hanging out there the entire trip,” Sam Thompson said.
“Something rubbed off on him, because he made a big play for us.”
Not just one, either. The game-winner will be the one everyone remembers, just like they remember Bryant’s game-winner against Phoenix in 2006, Boston in 2010 and so many others.
That One Shining Moment will be one of the lasting memories of his career with the Buckeyes, regardless of what he does over the rest of his career in Columbus. (Ross is only a sophomore at Ohio State.)
“I think every kid dreams about this in the backyard or in the front yard or out on the street shooting the ball,” the 6-8 forward said.
“You count down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and you put that shot up and hit it.”
Just like he did Thursday, but Ross is also the reason Ohio State was in that position to begin with, for good and for bad. His foul on Lyons almost cost the Buckeyes a game they seemingly had locked up with six-point lead and 1:33 to play.
The Buckeyes had rallied from a 12-point deficit in the first half. They had built the lead up to 10 on a three by Deshaun Thomas midway through the second half, but Arizona wouldn’t quit.
They kept coming back with big play after big play, and each time Ross answered them. After scoring only three points in the first half, he scored 14 of Ohio State’s final 18 points against the Wildcats.
“I came out a little shaky in the first half, but in the second half I was more locked into the game,” he said.
“I was ready to play.”
Ross has now scored 41 points in 59 minutes during the NCAA Tournament this March. It started with his 11-point performance against Nebraska in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, but Ross has had seven or more points in ever game since.
He has scored 17 in each of the last two games for the Buckeyes, who are headed back to the Elite Eight for the second-straight year.
“Q is sort of a Kobe Bryant kind of guy for us,” Thompson said.
“He can really score the ball. Q has deep range. When he gets going, he’s tough to stop. He’s a streaky guy, and he was on today. He really led us that second half.”
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