Good friends Thad Matta and Sean Miller together again

LOS ANGELES — Ever since Thad Matta and Sean Miller shared a tiny office at Miami of Ohio nearly two decades ago, the coaches’ friendship has survived job changes, practical jokes, and a few hundred bucks in unpaid lunch tabs.

They’ve worked together and recruited against each other. They’ve shared scouting tips and sought job advice. They even briefly lived under the same roof with their entire families.

‘‘I wouldn’t be here today without him,’’ Miller said Wednesday. ‘‘I learned a lot from him, enjoyed being around him when we worked together, and we remain very good friends.’’


They remained close after their teams faced off in a memorable Ohio State victory over Xavier in the NCAA Tournament six years ago, and they’re still close heading into their next meeting Thursday at Staples Center, when the second-seeded Buckeyes (28-7) meet Miller’s Arizona Wildcats (27-7) in the West Region semifinals.

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‘‘I don’t like the fact that we’re playing, but I’m happy as can be for him,’’ Matta said.

While nobody in either uniform would suggest this game is the true regional final, both teams realize the winner of this meeting will be a strong favorite to make the Final Four. Ohio State and Arizona are the only seeds in the top eight left in what looks like the least attractive regional.

‘‘We’re not caught up in the sexiness and all that,’’ Arizona guard Mark Lyons said. ‘‘I feel like my teammates are handsome, but that’s [beside] the point.’’

Ohio State is the only team to make the regional semifinals in each of the last four seasons, and the Buckeyes are on a 10-game winning streak since mid-February.


Arizona overcame its late-season struggles to put together yet another solid NCAA run, trouncing Belmont and unceremoniously ending Harvard’s hopes, while making better than 55 percent of their shots in both games.

‘‘It always gets tougher the further you go in the tournament,’’ said Aaron Craft, whose late 3-pointer propelled Ohio State past Iowa State last Sunday. ‘‘You play against great players, and as a defender, you always want to take away their go-to. They have more than one.’’

Arizona should have a home-court advantage as the regional’s closest school to Los Angeles by far, with thousands of Wildcats fans expected to make the trip to cheer on a team with seven players from Southern California. The Wildcats had a huge advantage two years ago in the West Region final in Anaheim, although UConn still advanced on the way to the national title.