by Sean Ceglinsky / @seanceglinsky
The stage was set for LaQuinton Ross to deliver in dramatic fashion. The plan was essentially put in motion from the moment the Ohio State sophomore forward stepped into the building at Staples Center for Thursday night’s NCAA Tournament West Regional game against Arizona.
In the locker room of the Los Angeles Lakers prior to the opening tip, Ross was granted all-important permission to use the area designated for Kobe Bryant.
Ross went out and played inspired ball as result. How could he not? Off the bench, Ross scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half and knocked down the game-winner, a three-pointer with two seconds left in the fourth quarter, to guide the Buckeyes to a 73-70 victory in the Sweet 16.
Must have been the karma of the Black Mamba. No other way to explain things.
“I found out it was Kobe Bryant’s locker. Before we got here, I called dibs on it anyway,” Ross said after the game. “To find out it was his locker, it felt great. That’s one of my favorite players growing up, someone I model my game after.”
“Playing here in Staples Center, that’s one of my dreams. It was great,” he added. “This is what every player grows up looking at on TV and wants to hit that big shot, wants to win the game and hit the big shot in the NCAA Tournament or the NBA. It just feels great to be right here, right now.”
Ross said he’s enjoyed L.A. from the moment the Buckeyes arrive this week.
During the shoot-around before the Arizona game, Ross challenged NBA veteran and CBS Sports broadcaster Reggie Miller to a three-point shooting contest. Sounds like the bravado of Kobe Bryant rubbed off on him in a major way. For the record, Miller respectfully declined the gesture.
“I was talking to one of my teammates, feeling good, so I was like we should call Reggie out,” Ross said about his conversation with Aaron Craft. “After practice me and Craft went up to him and told him what I said. I’m going to try and make him come out of retirement and shoot a little bit.”
It was all fun and games, yes. There’s still work to be done, though. Ross & Co. know this better than most. The team will take on Wichita State in the Elite Eight on Saturday after the Shockers defeated La Salle, 72-58, in Thursday night’s second game of the double-header at Staples Center.
“I don’t think he needed much reassurance of what to do with the ball there, he’s a great player, it was great to see him knock that down,” Craft said about Ross after handing out an assist to him in the waning moments against Arizona. “I was able to make a good read and Q did the hard part.”
It will be interesting to see if Ross is posted up in Bryant’s locker room quarters once again. It worked out well the first time around, after all. Odds are, Ross won’t complain if the scenario materializes. Certainly not after making the most of his opportunity to do his best Kobe Bryant impersonation.