No. 5 Florida drops first game in desert
Published: Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 11:56 p.m.
TUCSON, Ariz. — For more than 38 minutes, No. 5 Florida was in control of its top-10 desert showdown with No. 8 Arizona.
But in a final two minutes of botched in-bounds plays and missed free throws, the Gators (7-1) crumbled in a 65-64 loss to Arizona before a wild sellout of 14,545 at the McKale Center.
Arizona (8-0) capped the game with a 7-0 run, clinching it with a running bank shot from point guard Mark Lyons with 7.6 seconds left. After a wild shot from point guard Scottie Wilbekin in transition failed to get anywhere close to the rim as the buzzer sounded, Florida players left the court in stunned silence.
“We just got to remember it's a long season and rankings don't mean anything,” Florida junior center Patric Young said. “No championship has ever been won in December so we've got a long way to go. We're playing for more.”
The meltdown for the Gators included three straight turnovers on in-bounds plays and a missed front-end of a one-and-one free throw situation by senior guard Kenny Boynton with 21.5 seconds left that kept UF's slim lead at 64-63.
That set the stage for Lyons' heroics. Young switched to defend the play, but Lyons was able to bank the shot high over Young's outstretched hands.
“Pat did a great job switching 1-5 at the end of the game, and Lyons made a tough shot over the big guy,” Florida senior guard Mike Rosario said. “You can't ask for more for a big guy to try to move his feet in front of a 6-2 guard.”
It capped a rough night for Boynton, who remained mired in a deep shooting slump. He finished the game 2-of-10 from the floor and 1-of-7 from 3-point range.
“I have confidence every time he shoots the ball it's going to go on, especially at the free-throw line,” Young said. “It was in and out, and it looked like it was going in. Hopefully he doesn't hang his head on this. Hopefully I can encourage him some way, somehow. It's one game. There are plenty down the road.”
Florida was comfortably ahead 64-58 with 1:15 left and the ball after Young rebounded a missed Lyons 3-point attempt. Arizona guard Nick Johnson fouled Young, which set up an in-bounds play with 1:01 to play because the Wildcats were still under the limit.
On the in-bounds, Rosario tried to feed the ball to Boynton in the corner, but Johnson stole it. Young then fouled Arizona forward Kevin Parrom, who made a pair of free throws to cut Florida's lead to 64-60.
Another in-bounds play, another mistake. Rosario's turnover led to a layup from Arizona forward Solomon Hill with 44 second left, cutting UF's lead to 64-62.
On the third turnover, Boynton couldn't control a Murphy in-bounds pass and turned it over. Johnson made the steal, which resulted in Arizona freshman Grant Jerrett going to the line after being fouled by Wilbekin.
Jerrett made just one of two free throws to cut Florida's lead to 64-63.
The poor execution on in-bounds plays late was puzzling to Young.
“We gotta work on that big time,” Young said. “We never would have thought that would be such a big problem with our team. Apparently, we couldn't handle it that well and it cost us the game.”
But Rosario hinted it was reminiscent of last season's 72-68 meltdown late against Louisville in the Elite Eight.
“That's just us being a composed team and learning in situations like this, move past plays and stay in the now,” Rosario said. “I feel like as a team we've got to get better on that.”
Of the in-bounds plays, Rosario said: “Guys need to get open better, and coach needs to work on that with us more.”
Rosario led Florida with 16 points. Murphy added 15 points for the Gators, and Scottie Wilbekin scored 11.
Up 32-29 at halftime, Florida took control with a 7-2 run to start the second half, extending its lead to 39-32 on a Young hook inside.
The Gators maintained the lead with a balance of inside and outside baskets. Florida took a 51-41 lead on a Wilbekin 3-pointer and led by 11 points when a Rosario 3-pointer put the Gators ahead 54-43.
Arizona then went on a 7-0 run, cutting Florida's lead to 54-50 on a Jerrett baseline jumper.
Boynton followed with a 3-pointer, but the Wildcats refused to go away. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Johnson and Lyons cut Florida's lead to 61-58 with 4:20 left. Wilbekin answered with a big 3-pointer, extending UF's lead back to a comfortable 64-58 edge with 2:43 left.
In the highly anticipated matchup between top-10 teams, the Gators got off to a strong early start. An early 9-0 run put the Gators ahead 14-7. Rosario started the run with a 3-pointer, which included a breakaway steal and layup by Wilbekin, a runner in the lane from Boynton and an inside basket from Murphy.
But Arizona charged back, cutting Florida's lead to 20-17 on a Lyons' layup. That's when Florida went on another spurt, fueled by its press. After Rosario made a pair of free throws, Young came up with a steal at midcourt. Young slipped and lost the ball, but Hill was called for a travel while trying to smother the loose ball. Off an in-bounds play, Wilbekin then canned a 3-pointer to put Florida up 25-17.
Young was double-teamed early but worked free for a pair of inside baskets, including a hook shot that put Florida ahead 32-21 with 3:06 remaining.
Arizona closed the half on an 8-0 run, scoring all eight points in the final 1:19. Johnson hit a pair of 3-pointers, including an open 3-pointer in transition with 56 seconds left to cut Florida's lead to 32-27.
The Gators had a chance to hold for the last shot, but Boynton had the ball stripped away by Hill with six seconds left. Hill recovered the loose ball and drove in for an uncontested layup to cut Florida's lead to 32-29 at halftime.
Florida shot just 36.4 percent from the floor in the first half but held Arizona to 40.9 percent shooting.
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.