The Wildcats patiently wait to play the Gators in the sold out McKale Center in Tucson on Saturday, Dec. 15.
With a last minute 65-64 victory over the then-ranked No. 5 Florida Gators on Saturday, the Arizona Wildcats lived up to the hype and earned a No. 4 spot in the rankings this week.
As a part of the Pac-12 conference, one that has received little recognition over the years, Arizona has proven time and time again that it produces high-caliber athletes who are true competitors in the game. Rising above the arguments of being in a “weak conference” and the scrutiny of playing somewhat unworthy teams, the Wildcats pulled off a nail biting game down to the wire against the undefeated high-ranked Gators.
Arizona led for just a short time at the beginning of the game but managed to miss four of eight layups, six of nine threes and two mid-range jumpers leading to a 32-29 deficit at halftime. Coming into the second half, the Wildcats still struggled especially beyond the arc, missing seven of 11 threes while Florida went on a 3-point shooting rampage and went 6-8 from the three-point line.
Arizona ended up shooting 7-20 from the three and Florida went 10-18. From the looks of these numbers it may come as a bit of a shock that Arizona was able to pull of this game, however, Florida had its fair share of problems.
Although Florida annihilated Arizona in rebounding, 33 to 22 respectively, Florida was only able to score on 10 of those rebounds. In total, the Gators capitalized on one of their 12 offensive rebounds and nine of their 21 defensive rebounds. Needless to say Arizona also struggled in terms of capitalizing on rebounds and only scored on eight of 22 rebounds in this game.
The Wildcats spent too much time trying to match the three-point execution of their opponent that often times would lead to them missing beyond the arc yet continue to attempt shooting from there. Another unbelievable statistic with both teams was their lack of abilities to score in the paint and attack the basket.
Let’s talk about layups and mid-range jumpers. If you fail to make these easy points, you are set up for disaster.
Florida only made seven of 17 layups and six of 18 mid-range jumpers. The team only attempted and made one dunk. Arizona, on the other hand, was a bit more conservative and made eight of 13 layups, three of seven mid-range jumpers and I’ll also throw in the two attempted and made dunks.
Alongside inflexible shooting and failing to capitalize off of rebounds, Florida obviously did not help themselves by sending the Wildcats to the free throw line 21 times. Going 85.7 percent from the line, Arizona was able to get an easy 18 points. Florida only made a trip to the line eight times and made only six of its free throws.
When it really mattered, Solomon Hill was able to drive through traffic and make an easy layup with 46 seconds left in regulation and Mark Lyons sank in an off-balanced jumper with seven seconds left. Lyons shot led the Wildcats to their first lead of the game since the 18-minute mark in the first half and led Arizona to a 65-64 victory.
Even though spectators and fans crave games going down to the wire, this game was too close for comfort and I bet Sean Miller and the rest of the Wildcats agree.
What can the Wildcats learn from this game?
Well, a lot actually.
A game this close and competitive calls for veterans out on the floor and rookies to take a seat on the bench and watch how a game this intense should be played. To say the least, the Wildcats saw nothing from their colossal rookies Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett, but this was not a huge shocker. Rookies are expected to struggle from time to time especially in a game like this.
The guys who truly impacted the game were Hill, Mark Lyons, and Nick Johnson and they all had remarkable games.
As a leader, Hill put his team on his shoulders and in times of adversity, he is the Wildcats go-to guy. As the leading scorer with 18 points, Hill popped the clutch in this game and went off on a shooting spree. He went 5-9 from the field, 2-6 from the three and also took a trip to the free throw line 6 times, making all of his free throws.
Hill made some clutch baskets that were very much needed but his aggression toward the end of the game was the difference maker and it is what the Wildcats need every game.
Nick Johnson was another contributor in the victory against Florida. He scored 15 points, going 4-7 from the field and 3-4 from the three, had three rebounds, three assists and four steals.
With the addition of Lyons, the Arizona Wildcats have flourished. He is an incredible athlete and gives the Wildcats that extra lift in hype and excitement. Against Florida, Lyons had 14 points and went 5-8 from the field and 2-5 from the three. He also hit the game winning unorthodox layup.
Overall, Arizona has a promising season and the Wildcats are a big threat against every team in the NCAA. As they continue to learn and grow together, mixing it up out on the floor is crucial in their success. With a 35-second shot clock there has to be more action and ball movement on the floor instead of just jacking up three-point shots as the Wildcats have done in their last two games. Versatility is key and more shooting in the paint and driving to the basket will make Arizona an impossible team to defend.