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Pac-12 Basketball: Arizona-Florida Preview

The No. 8-ranked Arizona Wildcats will face their stiffest test yet this season when they take on the No. 5-ranked Florida Gators on Saturday night. However, the Wildcats have already displayed an ability this season to gut out tough wins in even tougher situations. Last Saturday, Arizona found itself in a deep hole against Clemson and managed to rally back, winning 66-54. Arizona lost a 14-point lead in the first half, but guard Mark Lyons scored 20 points to lead a ten-minute, 25-7 run in the second half that ultimately buried Clemson.

“He has a confidence in our huddle and a toughness about him when going against confident players because he’s been in so many big games,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said of Lyons, a transfer from Xavier. “He’s contagious. And I thought one of the reasons we continued to stay with it and fight in the second half was his disposition.”

Lyons had a slow start to the season, but fulfilled his promise against Clemson. Perhaps more importantly, he showed that the Wildcats have what it takes to hang in tough games and find ways to eke out wins. That is exactly the skill they’ll need as they get a tough Florida team at home.

“It’s an easy transition for me because of the guys I’m playing with,” Lyons said. “My coach is a great point guard back in his day and he’s just making me better every day. This [win] will help our morale. When we go on the road, we’ll be ready. And if we’re ever in a close game, we know what it takes to overcome it.”

The Gators defense has been absolutely ferocious this season, pressing teams into making tons of turnovers, and more importantly, scoring on those chances. Florida has scored nearly twice as many points off turnovers in games than their opponents, 21.3 points a game compared to 9.9. However, Arizona has speedy guards, notably Lyons, that can exploit that press. However, Lyons has been turning the ball over far too much this season, one of the primary reasons why he has drawn so much heat from Wildcats fans prior to his 20-point outburst against Clemson. Florida, of course, creates turnovers like no other team in the country, and can score with a transition three or layup in a flash. The key to this game will be Arizona, and Lyons in particular, limiting their turnovers. If they can do that and get past Florida’s ferocious press, they could win this game. Arizona must take an early lead, and let their home crowd get into the action from there. The Gators have not trailed a single game after the first five minutes of play, and with their hard press and turnover creation, can easily rip a crowd out of a game quickly if they get in a groove. Arizona must get out early and not allow that to happen.

Ultimately, I think the Gators will win this game because of the Arizona Wildcats’ turnover problem. They just play too fast and loose with the ball to succeed against this stifling Florida defense; the Wildcats average 15 turnovers a game, and the Gators take away 17 balls a game. That is a lethal combination, and while I think it will be a close game because of Arizona’s fantastic home court advantage, I think the Gators will ultimately take a win here. Arizona is much improved this season, and plays a great brand of inside-outside basketball, but they can’t afford to make the mistakes that they so often make against a team as talented as Florida.

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