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March 24, 2007
OSU's Thad Five advances to the Final Four
SAN ANTONIO –Greg Oden wasn't going to let foul trouble stop him, not with a chance to take Ohio State to the Final Four.
Frustrated by fouls for a third straight game, Oden made the most of his time on court during a key stretch of the second half, carrying the top-seeded Buckeyes past Memphis 92-76 Saturday in the South Regional finals.
Oden's numbers weren't huge: 17 points, nine rebounds.
The 7-footer's impact was.
The Buckeyes (34-3) went from up five points to down five during the 4:42 the fabulous freshman was on the bench after getting his third foul early in the second half. The moment he returned, everything changed. His presence on offense and defense sparked a 20-8 run that ultimately sent Ohio State to its 21st straight win and to Atlanta to play the winner of Sunday's North Carolina-Georgetown game.
"He came in with a lot of enthusiasm after sitting on the bench," point guard Mike Conley Jr. said of Oden, his high school teammate. "I think he just picked us up."
The Buckeyes last made the Final Four in 1999, when a team led by Michael Redd and Scoonie Penn lost to eventual national champion Connecticut. That trip later was expunged from the records because of NCAA violations, making their last official appearance in 1968.
Second-seeded Memphis (33-4) fell a game shy of the Final Four for a second straight season. The Conference USA champs were riding a 25-game winning streak and plenty confident they could handle the Big Ten champs - and were doing just fine until the 260-pound future NBA lottery pick flexed his muscles.
In only 24 minutes, Oden made 7-of-8 shots and was 3-of-6 from the line with a block that came on the first defensive stand after he returned with three fouls. Memphis' inability to stop him was summed up best when Chris Douglas-Roberts threw both arms around Oden's waist and shoved him for an intentional foul - but Oden still made the shot. He also made one of two free throws, tying the game at 60. Ohio State got to keep the ball and went ahead 62-60.
"I really hope it was an intentional foul because it was a difference-maker," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "It really changed the game."
Said Buckeyes senior Ron Lewis: "It put fuel on the fire."
When Oden caught a pass, spun and scored with his left hand against Joey Dorsey, the Buckeyes were up 71-64 and in solid control with about five minutes left. By then, Ohio State fans, who'd anguished through big comebacks and crucial last-second shots the last two games, were breathing easily, possibly even wondering how much longer they'll get to savor Oden in scarlet and white.
They made their thoughts on the subject clear by chanting "One more year!" during the postgame, net-cutting ceremony. They later hollered, "Two more games," which could bring the Buckeyes their second basketball title and first since the 1960 club that featured John Havlicek, Jerry Lucas and a backup named Bob Knight.
Conley - the son of a former Olympic star and Oden's high school teammate - set the pace for the Buckeyes with hard-charging drives from the start. He scored 19 points and led Ohio State to its most points of the season. He also was named the top player in the region.
Lewis continued his steady tournament play with 22 points and six rebounds. Jamar Butler added 12 points. The Buckeyes made 51 percent of their shots, and were 35-of-41 from the foul line, never giving Memphis a chance to get back in the game down the stretch.
The Tigers hung in early by shooting 7-of-10 on 3-pointers in the first half, an surprising start considering they began last year's regional finals loss to UCLA 0-for-14 from behind the arc.
But they couldn't keep it up. Memphis made only three more on 12 tries after halftime and were further slowed by its star player, Douglas-Roberts, getting into foul trouble.
Jeremy Hunt led the Tigers with 26 points, 17 in the first half. Douglas-Roberts scored 14, Willie Kemp had 12 and Antonio Anderson got 10 points and a suture over his right eyebrow after catching an elbow from teammate Robert Dozier in the first half.
Dorsey, who said Friday he was Goliath and Oden was "the little man," had four rebounds and no points in 19 minutes. He also drew four fouls.
"I thought we'd have a little better matchup inside," Calipari said. "I thought it would be more competitive."
Conley said Dorsey's comments "affected us as a team more than it affected Greg."
"When somebody talks about Greg, they're talking about all of us," Conley said.
Oden scored the game's first basket on a left-handed flick over Dorsey. Midway through the first half, he slipped around Dorsey's hefty backup and threw down a dunk so hard that he practically did a chin-up on the rim. Only 16 seconds later, though, Oden was headed to the bench with his second foul.
He opened the second half with more dazzling plays: spinning around Dorsey for another easy score, then grabbing a rebound and leading a fast break that ended with an alley-oop dunk by Lewis.
Oden got his third foul on a reach-in two minutes later. It was Memphis' last chance, but it didn't last long enough.