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December 16, 2012

Wildcats pounce on Gators' late miscues



Two wild comebacks, one happy Arizona campus - and all in the span of a few hours.

Christmas arrived early in Tucson - and it was fifth-ranked Florida handing out the gifts late Saturday night.

The No. 8 Wildcats men's basketball team erased a five-point deficit in less than a minute and senior Mark Lyons delivered the game-winning runner with 7 seconds to play in a 65-64 thriller over the Gators at McKale Center.

Earlier in the day, the UA football team stunned Nevada for a come-from-behind, 49-48 New Mexico Bowl stunner that featured two touchdowns, a recovered onside kick and a game-winning extra point - all in the span of less than 2 minutes.

"It's a great day for us," Wildcats senior forward Solomon Hill said. "Both teams looked ugly at times, we both made our share of bad plays, but we kept staying in there and fighting."

On the hardwood, the Wildcats (8-0) cut a 64-58 deficit down to four on a pair of Kevin Parrom free throws with 56 seconds to play.

The veteran Gators (7-1), who had played with a tremendous amount of poise to that point, then started to melt down with the help of some Arizona pressure. Florida redshirt senior guard Mike Rosario promptly turned the ball over, and on the next trip down Hill drove the lane for a layup.

Another Gators senior, this time Kenny Boynton, then had the ball stripped by UA sophomore Nick Johnson. With 26 seconds left, freshman forward Grant Jerrett was fouled and put on the free-throw for a chance to tie but split the free throws.

Still leading 64-63 with 21 seconds to play, Boynton then missed the front end of a one-and-one. Instead of burning a timeout, Wildcats head coach Sean Miller let a team that had been stagnant in the halfcourt set for most of the night to play on and execute.

Lyons, who finished with 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting, dribbled to his right and lofted the deciding basket - which gave the Wildcats their first lead since the 18:30 mark of the opening half.

Hill led the way with 12 of his game-high 18 points in the second half, while Johnson added 15 and four steals. As team, the 'Cats shot 45.5 percent but struggled up until the final minute with poor shot selection.

Florida, meanwhile, converted better than 63 percent of its shots after the break, but nine second-half turnovers were too tough to overcome. Rosario paced the Gators with 16 points and Erik Murphy added 15.

The Gators lost despite sinking 10 of 18 3-pointers and owning a 27-21 rebounding advantage - including 11-4 on the offensive glass.

For the majority of the first half, Florida's battle-tested experience and maturity proved to be the difference.

Both teams struggled to make shots early, but a 7 1/2-minute drought without a field goal plagued the Wildcats. Patric Young's tough hook shot over 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski with 5:03 remaining in the half put the Gators ahead by double digits, and a minute later Murphy's 3-pointer extended the advantage to 32-21.

Meanwhile, Arizona found it difficult to get into its offense against a team that had allowed fewer than 50 points in five of seven games coming into the contest.

"I think we outplayed them most of the game, but that doesn't matter," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "It's a 40-minute game and they outplayed us at the end, when it mattered most."

But the Wildcats found a spark in Johnson for the final 80 seconds. The sophomore buried back-to-back 3s and a Hill steal-turned-dunk before the buzzer closed the half on an 8-0 run.

Although out of sync for long stretches thanks to eight first-half turnovers, UA trailed just 32-29 heading into the locker room.

"We're the real deal," Johnson said. "Everybody said something about our schedule before this and this was the opportunity to prove ourselves in front of the nation."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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