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December 15, 2012
The hype surrounding fifth-ranked Florida's visit Saturday night to No. 8 Arizona is about the closest thing college basketball's regular season will get to a March Madness feel.
Both teams, after all, are 7-0 and have yet to be tested to this point.
While the Wildcats understand what a victory would do for their postseason credentials, as well as the Pac-12 Conference's perception around the country, head coach Sean Miller and his players refuse to take the bait.
Tipoff at McKale Center is scheduled for 8 p.m. MST.
"The one thing that I don't want to get caught up in - and I've preached to our team is: This isn't an NCAA tournament game in March," Miller said. "This is a huge nonconference game for both teams because it represents a great opportunity. If we would be fortunate enough to win, we all know that beating a team like Florida has great meaning because of how good they are.
"But, either way, I know that we're going to be better after the game and we're going to learn a lot about our team."
Last season, the Gators handed the 'Cats a 78-72 overtime loss in Gainesville. UA forward Solomon Hill made three free throws with four seconds remaining in regulation to send the game into an extra session, but he converted just 1 of 7 field goal attempts and scored five points before fouling out.
Hill said he takes no solace in giving his team five extra minutes of life.
"I just remember fouling out after (the free throws)," Hill said. "I think I played a terrible game last year."
The Gators will return three-fifths of their starting lineup from last year's meeting, including 6-9 senior center Patric Young. The 249-pounder scorched a Wildcats lineup that included a 6-6 center, recording 25 points on 12-of-15 shooting and 10 rebounds.
This time, however, Arizona will counter with its own experienced veteran in point guard Mark Lyons, a fifth-year senior transfer from Xavier.
Also, 7-foot, 255-pound center Kaleb Tarczewski now patrols the paint. Miller said it will take more than the freshman to contain Young.
"Bad things happen when (Young) gets the offensive rebound," Miler said. "It's not just Kaleb versus Patric Young."
But it is a battle of talented youth versus battle-tested upperclassmen. Florida has advanced to the Elite Eight each of the last two seasons while Arizona missed the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years.
Miller said experience will be the "greatest advantage" for head coach Billy Donovan's team.
"You see someone like Kenny Boynton, who is very talented like some of our freshmen, and he's in his fourth year," Miller said. "I think the other thing to note with Florida is not only do they have great experience, but they also have great experience in winning.
"You have several players, starters on this year's team that have played in back-to-back regional final games. There's something to be said about playing on the big stage, in the big games, playing late in March.
"It's going to be one heck of a game."
The Wildcats expect to see a variation of pressure, zone and man-to-man defense from the Gators. In a 72-47 win over Florida State on Dec. 5, Florida produced 32 points off 22 turnovers.
And it is in transition where Miller added that second-leading scorer Erik Murphy is most dangerous.
Miller said his team cannot commit more than 12 turnovers "to have a chance to win."
"They force your team to take care of the ball," Miller said. "Turnovers against Florida lead to transition baskets and opportunities, and that's really where they thrive.
"It's really a 40-minute game of concentration."
Arizona sophomore Nick Johnson, the team's leading scorer at 13.6 points per game, said he expects the game to be decided by the little things like rebounding and taking charges.
"I know the scoring will take care of itself," Johnson said.
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor
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