Ohio State Buckeyes' Ross watches his game-winning three-point shot along with Arizona Wildcats' Lyons in the closing seconds of their West Regional NCAA men's basketball game in Los Angeles

LaQuinton Ross’ three-pointer pushes Ohio State past Arizona (VIDEO)

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One of the best players in his high school class Ohio State sophomore wing LaQuinton Ross is an immensely gifted basketball player, and many have been waiting for him to become a factor.

During the NCAA tournament he’s stepped up, and on Thursday night his three-pointer with 2.1 seconds remaining proved to be the difference in the Buckeyes’ 73-70 victory over 6-seed Arizona in Los Angeles.

With Deshaun Thomas proving to be a difficult matchup for Arizona the Buckeyes (29-7) needed someone to step up and provide some offense. Up stepped Ross, who finished the game 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting.

“From my perspective, just in terms of the game, the one thing that I really had my eye on was LaQuinton Ross,” said Arizona head coach Sean Miller. “I really believe if you look at Ohio State’s winning streak, when he enters the game, it changes things in a very positive way for their team.”

Thomas finished with 20 points but most of his damage was done in the first half, and Ohio State would trail by as many as 11 points before finally getting untracked. Two things happened in the latter stages of the first half and carried over following the intermission: other Buckeyes raised their level of play offensively and as a team Thad Matta’s team played far better defensively.

Sounder in their defensive rotations, Ohio State put together a 22-5 run that lasted for nearly 12 minutes. Solomon Hill was hot for the Wildcats (27-8), keeping his team within striking distance, but everyone else went cold and Arizona would trail by as many as ten before rallying down the stretch.

Hill finished with 16 points and Mark Lyons scored 23 to lead the way. However, outside of those two Arizona shot just 10-of-29 (34.5%) from the field, and that percentage won’t get the job done against a team like Ohio State.

Arizona’s rally set the stage for more Buckeye heroics on the heels of Aaron Craft’s game-winner against Iowa State on Sunday, and on this occasion it was Ross who landed the finishing blow. Much is made of teams getting hot at the right time and Ohio State fits that mold as they’ve now won 11 straight games.

But what about players? Ross played well during the Big Ten tournament and he’s continued to do so in the NCAA tournament. If the lanky wing can continue to do so, Ohio State has to like their chances of getting to Atlanta.

“He’s out there with some other really skilled and good players,” remarked Miller on Ross’ impact. “But his 17 points and the 22‑5 run after halftime really, in my mind, stand out in the difference of a great game, a really hard‑fought game.”

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.