LOS ANGELES — The friendship between Arizona’s Sean Miller and Ohio State’s Thad Matta began with a practical joke.
A few days after Matta joined the staff at Miami (Ohio) as an assistant coach in 1994, Miller asked his new colleague if he wanted to drive with him to a coaching clinic Miller would be speaking at the next morning. Matta asked where the clinic was, and Miller responded casually, “I’m not exactly sure. It’s around here somewhere.”
“We left at 6:00 from Oxford and arrived in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, at like 3 a.m,” Matta recalled with a smile. “He got me. At that point, I kind of knew what I was in for.”
Miller’s and Matta’s lives will again intertwine Thursday night in Los Angeles when second-seeded Ohio State and sixth-seeded Arizona face off in the West regional semifinals. Though the matchups on the floor will be fun to watch, the most intriguing duel will be the battle of wits on the sidelines as two close friends very familiar with each other’s rosters and strategies try to stay one step ahead of one-another.
The only time Matta and Miller have ever coached head-to-head was in a memorable second-round NCAA tournament game in 2007. Top-seeded Ohio State stormed back from a nine-point deficit in the final three minutes against Miller’s Xavier team, tying the game on a Ron Lewis 3-pointer with two seconds to go in regulation and pulling away in overtime.