A rematch more than 44 years in the making also will provide a homecoming for two elite freshmen Saturday at the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, where Greg Oden, Michael Conley and No. 4 Ohio State will play intrastate rival Cincinnati in the Wooden Tradition.
The Buckeyes (8-1) and Bearcats (7-2)—despite being less than 100 miles apart—have not played each other since the 1962 NCAA tournament title game, when Cincinnati defeated Ohio State 71-59. The Bearcats also topped the Buckeyes 70-65 in overtime in the 1961 title game, when the teams had future basketball legends such as Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, Tom Thacker and Bobby Knight on their respective rosters.
“I think this game is really more for the fans, but it will be a great challenge,” said Buckeyes coach Thad Matta, who went 2-1 against Cincinnati while coaching Xavier. “What’s unique is the last two times we played, it was for the national championship.”
Despite the rich lineage of those two games, Saturday’s contest will mark the first regular-season contest between the schools since a 33-17 victory by Cincinnati at Ohio State on Dec. 10, 1921. And with the game in Indianapolis, it will be a homecoming for two of the newest collegiate stars, Buckeyes center Greg Oden and teammate Mike Conley Jr.
Oden, who missed Ohio State’s first seven games after undergoing wrist surgery in the summer, is considered a once-in-a-generation prospect and has done nothing to dispel those beliefs. The 7-footer has 30 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks in his first two collegiate contests, and has made his last 11 shots after missing the first of his career.
Conley, who played with Oden in high school before the two became the cornerstones of coach Thad Matta’s “Thad 5” recruiting class, is averaging 9.3 points and a team-high 6.4 assists for the Buckeyes, who have averaged 85.2 points and are shooting 43.1 percent from 3-point range, making 10.3 shots per game from beyond the arc.
Bearcats freshman Deonta Vaughn also is making a homecoming, but this game is a chance for Cincinnati to make a national statement under first-year coach Mick Cronin.
“They’re ranked really high and we’re not ranked at all, so we want to make a name for ourselves,” said Bearcats forward John Williamson, a Columbus native.
Vaughn and Williamson helped Cincinnati to a 67-57 win over crosstown rival Xavier in their annual game Wednesday. Vaughn had 24 points and Williamson added 18 and eight rebounds for the Bearcats, who grabbed 17 offensive rebounds and forced 18 turnovers to offset shooting just 35 percent from the field.
Vaughn leads the team with 16.6 points per game, while Williamson—who is shooting 56.8 percent from the field—is averaging 16.0 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds. The junior forward also took in some of the history lesson Cronin provided when talking about the two NCAA title games between the teams.
“There’s a lot of excitement because we haven’t played since the ’60s or something, I guess,” Williamson said. “Coach was telling us how good a game the ’62 championship was.”
Cincinnati, which has won four of its last five overall, is 7-0 when holding opponents to 57 points or fewer. The Bearcats are making their third appearance in the Wooden Tradition, losing to Notre Dame in 2000 and defeating Purdue in 2004.