UA assistant coach Book Richardson, center, shows off after hitting a shot during Wednesday's practice.


LOS ANGELES - The pattern of the Arizona Wildcats' season says it all ends today.

The Wildcats were a preseason No. 12 pick. They have an RPI of 14, a Sagarin rating of 16 and an AP ranking of 18, all numbers that suggest they aren't supposed last past today's Sweet 16 showdown with Ohio State.

Besides, all season long, they have generally beaten teams they were supposed to and lost to those they weren't. Then they were kept close to home for the NCAA tournament's first weekend and beat two double-digit NCAA tournament teams to reach the West Region semifinals.

And now, Ohio State. The 10th-ranked team in the country, No. 2 seed in the West and winner of the tournament in what was arguably the nation's best conference this season.

They're the team with an aggressive and savvy defender in Aaron Craft, who will likely be sicced on Mark Lyons. And the team that has a skilled inside-outside forward in Deshaun Thomas, whose size will demand UA's inconsistent interior defenders try to stop him.

You could say it all doesn't compute.

But the Wildcats won't say that. Certainly the ever-confident Lyons won't.

"Our team is good," he said. "We lost six games in conference but only lost once to a team that didn't get in the NCAA tournament (USC). We're playing real good, and our defense is good."

Other Wildcats see themselves as a team that built some momentum, despite two late-season losses to UCLA, and gained more steam with the two wins last weekend.

"We're playing at a much higher level right now," forward Kevin Parrom said. "We playing with great intensity, even when we've lost. And our defense is starting to pick up a little bit."

It will need to considerably today. While Thomas is clearly the Buckeyes' biggest threat, OSU uses Craft's savviness and frequent ball screens to spring loose other key players in their perimeter-oriented attack.

The Buckeyes also play a solid man-to-man defense and haven't lost since Feb. 17 at Wisconsin.

Nobody knows it all better than Arizona coach Sean Miller, who is close friends with OSU coach Thad Matta and watches the Buckeyes regularly.

"I know this year the Big Ten was an incredible conference," Miller said. "The fact that they've won 10 games in a row coming in, we know that it's about Arizona being at our best. Anything less, we won't be able to beat a team as good as Ohio State is."

But the Wildcats say they are at their best now. They were through New Year's, acquiring a 12-0 nonconference record and taking a 14-0 record into their first loss of the season, at Oregon on Jan. 10.

There was a downward spiral in February, thanks in large part to the illness and subsequent slump of do-everything guard Nick Johnson, but he's back in full form now.

So is everyone else.

"A month ago really set us up to be where we are right now," forward Solomon Hill said. "I think guys are refocused on what got us successful earlier in the season. We lost our way a little bit and got happy and started looking past games. But now we're back on schedule, and that's where we need to be."

The Wildcats may also have one outside factor in their favor today: the geography and weirdness of the West Region.

Whereas the Wildcats played in five time zones this season, Ohio State didn't play a single game outside the Central and Eastern time zones, in part because of Matta's dislike of faraway nonconference games.

"In the regular season, I think, it's hard to come out and play one game with the time zone," Matta said. "You're just off a little bit."

Now the Buckeyes have traveled to California, and although Matta says it helped that they acclimated by arriving Tuesday, they'll be playing in something of a second home for the Wildcats.

"He doesn't like to go far from home," Miller said of Matta. "I guess if there's one small advantage we have, it's that we have him in a place that he's not real familiar with, a long way from home."

And in a region where most of the best seeds are gone. No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 3 New Mexico, No. 4 Kansas State and No. 5 Wisconsin didn't even make it to L.A.

"If it's the worst regional, good. Great," Miller said. "I mean, the thing about this tournament is nobody looks back and says, 'Boy, what an easy road or a hard road.' … We're in the Sweet 16. There are four teams here, and I know the team we're playing tomorrow can win a national championship.

"So we have to focus on trying to compete against them and be at our best. If this region isn't strong, thank goodness. I'm glad we're here."

On StarNet: Join the fun with your fellow fans while you watch the Wildcats take on Ohio State at

Sweet 16

• Who: No. 6 Arizona vs. No. 2 Ohio State

• Where: Los Angeles

• When: 4:47 p.m., today


• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM