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Cats claw out victory over Florida

Sean Miller knows why he and his staff worked so hard to reconnect with graduate senior Mark Lyons this offseason. Now, Wildcat fans know why too. Lyons has that scorer’s mentality, the type of mentality that the Wildcat roster lacked last season. After Arizona nearly erased a six-point deficit in the final minute of regulation Saturday night against fifth-ranked Florida, was there any doubt which Wildcat would attempt the game-winning shot down by a point and less than 20 seconds remaining?

Arizona's Mark Lyons was born for game-winning situations. Saturday in Tucson, the senior delivered with the game-winning basket.

Following a missed free throw on the front end of a one-and-one by Florida’s Kenny Boynton, Arizona’s Lyons calmly walked the ball up the court trailing 64-63 before going on the attack and hitting a contested runner with 7.1 seconds to play. Lyons shot banked in off the glass to put the Wildcats ahead for the first time since the game’s opening minutes. His basket proved to be the game-deciding points as Florida would not get off a shot attempt as the clock ran out.

Arizona (8-0, 6-0 home) led 7-5 in the early going, but it was a lead short-lived as Florida took control of the contest to build a 30-19 advantage on an Erik Murphy trey with just over four minutes to play in the half. The Wildcats would close out the opening frame with eight unanswered points to only trail 32-29 at the break.

Florida (7-1, 1-1 away) was not fazed by Arizona’s late half surge, however, quickly re-establishing its dominance after intermission to again lead by double digits at 49-39 with 14 minutes to go. The Gators would actually extend its lead to 11 points at 54-43 on a Mike Rosario 3-Pointer, but would soon see its lead slowly begin to vanish over the game’s final 10 minutes.

The eighth-ranked Wildcats answered Rosario’s trey with a 3-Pointer from Kevin Parrom to pull to within 54-46. On Florida’s ensuing possession, a steal by Parrom led to a layup by Nick Johnson, which was soon followed by a baseline jumper by Grant Jerrett to close Arizona’s deficit to just 54-50 with 8:20 left.

Boynton would respond with a 3-Pointer of his own to push Florida’s lead back to seven points, but Arizona would quickly bounce back on scores by Solomon Hill, Johnson and Lyons to trail 61-58 entering the game’s final television timeout.

Scottie Wilbiken, who scored 11 points off the bench for Florida, hit a clutch trey with 2:28 to play to put the Gators up 64-58. However, Florida would not score again as Arizona’s full court pressure led to key Gator turnovers and big Wildcat buckets.

Arizona’s Johnson followed Wilbiken’s three-pointer with two missed free throws, but later produced a steal and kick ahead to Parrom who was fouled on the play. Parrom calmly sank two free throws to pull the Cats to within 64-60 with 56 seconds on the clock. Arizona then forced a Florida turnover on the inbounds play, then responded with a scoring drive by Hill to only trail by two points with over 45 ticks to go. Another turnover by Florida ensued, this time on a steal by Parrom, which ultimately resulted in Arizona’s Jerrett going to the foul line. The true freshman sank one of two foul attempts with 26.1 seconds remaining. Florida would finally inbound the ball successfully as an Arizona foul sent Boynton to the line for a one-and-one. Boynton missed his first attempt to set up Lyons’ game-winner in the waning seconds.

Hill led all scorers with 18 points on 5-for-9 shooting. He was joined in double figures by teammates Johnson and Lyons, who scored 15 and 14 points respectively. Florida was led by Rosario’s 16 points and Murphy’s 15. Boynton, Florida’s leading scorer entering the game, finished with just five points on 2-for-10 shooting.

The Gators did outrebound the Wildcats thanks to an impressive 11 offensive rebounds. However, Florida’s inability to convert second-chance points helped Arizona stay with the Gators throughout the game. A big key was Arizona’s ability to get to the foul line. The Wildcats attempted 13 more free throws than Florida, making 18 to Florida’s six from the charity stripe.

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