Michael Periatt / Asst. sports editor
BOSTON – A record four teams from the state of Ohio have advanced to play in the 2012 NCAA Tournament Regional Semifinals. One result of this Buckeye State phenomenon is a meeting between Ohio State and Cincinnati’s men’s basketball teams, which has reignited discussion of a rivalry between the two schools.
Talk of a perceived rivalry was downplayed by players and coaches from both teams on the eve of the No. 2-seeded Buckeyes’ (29-7) meeting with the No. 6-seeded Bearcats (26-10) at TD Garden in Boston Thursday with a berth in the Elite Eight on the line.
Everyone except a lone OSU player is downplaying the in-state rivalry, anyway.
OSU and UC are meeting for the 10th time in their respective histories and for the second time since playing each other in back-to-back NCAA Championships in 1961 and 1962. The Buckeyes own a 5-4 all-time series record, but the Bearcats took both championship-game meetings from OSU.
In the schools’ last meeting – a December 2006 win for OSU – former Buckeyes center Greg Oden heaped 14 points and 11 rebounds on the Bearcats in a 72-50 win in the Wooden Tradition in Indianapolis. That game was the first meeting since the Bearcats’ championship-game triumph in 1962.
Despite the lack of games in recent years, media peppered UC coach Mick Cronin and OSU coach Thad Matta with questions about the rivalry.
Cronin quickly dampened the discussion, saying the Buckeyes are “the next team on the schedule.”
“Again, for the fans, it’s different. … For a lot of our fans, there’s nostalgia,” Cronin said. “We’ve got bigger fish to fry, and we need to stay focused on things that matter.”
UC senior center Yancy Gates said that while Bearcats fans want a win against the Buckeyes Thursday, their fan base wants every win.
“We always want to make our fans happy, but I think we want it just as much as them,” Gates said. “I don’t think (playing OSU) puts any added pressure. I mean, I think we play good under pressure anyways, so we’ll take the added pressure.”
Matta did not directly respond to a question from one media member about Cincinnati’s frustration in not playing his Buckeyes squad, saying he was not exactly sure what the answer to it is.
“In terms of why we haven’t – we played them (in 2006) in Indianapolis, which was a CBS-type game that they’d asked us to play,” Matta said. “I don’t know if I can give you a great answer exactly why we don’t play.”
The OSU camp’s response to questions about the rivalry was similarly dismissive to UC’s – save for Buckeyes sophomore forward Jared Sullinger.
Sullinger said Thursday’s game would be “a battle for Ohio.”
“It still kind of has bad blood between the schools,” Sullinger said, “so this one is going to be remembered for whoever goes to the Elite Eight.”
OSU and UC are scheduled to tip in the East Region Semifinal Thursday 30 minutes after the conclusion of No. 1-seeded Syracuse and No. 4-seeded Wisconsin’s semifinal game. The Orange and Badgers begin their game at 7:25 p.m.