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No. 5 Florida’s failure to close halves proves costly in Tucson

Dec 16, 2012, 1:20 AM EDT

Florida v Arizona Getty Images

TUCSON – No. 5 Florida led No. 8 Arizona 64-58 with 1:17 remaining, and it looked like the 14,000-plus Wildcat fans inside McKale Center would not go home with a win to cap a day that began with their football team’s comeback at the New Mexico Bowl.

Both teams had other plans however, as the Gators were reckless with the basketball late (three turnovers in their final five possessions) and the Wildcats was more than willing to take advantage.

Arizona scored the final seven points of the game, with Mark Lyons’ driving basket with seven seconds remaining proving to be the difference in the 65-64 victory.

Florida entered Saturday’s contest averaging just 12.4 turnovers per game, with their two worst performances in that category coming in decisive victories over Wisconsin (20 turnovers) and Florida State (15). Florida finished tonight’s game with 14 turnovers, but many of their miscues coming in the latter stages of each half.

Florida controlled much of the contest but the moments that were the exception proved to be costly, as Arizona outscored the Gators 15-0 when looking at solely the final 1:20 of each half.

“For me it’s a tale of two halves, closing out the halves so to speak,” said Florida head coach Billy Donovan. “I told the guys at halftime, ‘if you’re going to lose the game, make them beat us’ and I felt we beat ourselves tonight, especially in the first half.

“We didn’t close out very well, we didn’t execute well enough. We’ve had issues with turnovers; it’s been a problem for us and it started in the Wisconsin game.

Arizona trailed 32-21 with 1:20 left in the first half, but an 8-0 run thanks to a pair of Nick Johnson three-pointers and a Solomon Hill dunk closed the gap to three at the intermission. Florida turned the ball over five times to Arizona’s eight in the first half, but the Wildcats outscored the Gators 9-8 in the points off turnovers category.

The second half proved to be more of the same for Florida, as they took control of the game only to have it slip from their grasp down the stretch. Three consecutive turnovers followed by two missed shots in the final minute plus and the Gators were on their way back to Gainesville with a tough loss.

Erik Murphy (ten points in the first half with just one turnover; six points with four turnovers in the second) struggled against Arizona’s smaller lineup in the second half, a move brought on primarily by starting center Kaleb Tarczewski’s foul trouble.

Solomon Hill led Arizona with 18 points, Johnson added 15 and Lyons 14 capped by his drive to the basket in the final seconds.

While the comeback was an impressive one for the Wildcats, who handed the Pac-12 a needed Christmas present in the form of the league’s first win over a non-conference opponent ranked in the Top 10 since 2009 (USC beat Tennessee 77-55), the biggest story will be about how Florida allowed a statement victory to slip away.

How Florida addresses its issues with turnovers and closing out halves will ultimately determine whether or not a team that’s reached the Elite 8 in each of the last two seasons can take the next step.

“What I love about this team is that we are never satisfied,” said Rosario, who finished the game with a team-high 16 points. “We have a lot of areas we can improve upon, and we just need to keep pressing through the rest of the season.”

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

  1. funktron2x - Dec 16, 2012 at 1:42 AM

    Most talented Arizona squad since 2005. These guys haven’t even scratched the surface, and the young bigs are so incredibly raw. They are going to be a LOAD to handle going forward. They had no business winning this game, but Hill and Lyons and Johnson willed it. And next season, McConnell will give them a true point and none of the bigs will be ready for pros. It’s an awesome time to be a Wildcat.

    • florida727 - Dec 16, 2012 at 9:31 AM

      As much as I’d like to say we gave the game away, the reality is, the Wildcats played all 40 minutes and TOOK the game away. They deserved to win. When you have Billy Donovan as your coach, and you start 3 seniors and 2 juniors, you have no excuse for being outscored 15-0 to close out the two halves… despite playing on the road in a brutally hostile environment like the McKale Center. Congrats to all Wildcats fans. Maybe we’ll see you again in March.

      • florida727 - Dec 16, 2012 at 9:33 AM

        One last note: I really enjoyed listening to Miles Simon on ESPN, as the ‘analyst’. He had every opportunity to be biased since he played and coached at Arizona, but he never did. I hope he gets more national assignments. He deserves them in my opinion.

  2. wwttww - Dec 16, 2012 at 2:59 AM

    A loss in December? Zzzzzzzzzz

  3. jagsfan11 - Dec 16, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    We gave that game away. Congrats to AU. We still have conference play though. And I still beleive well get farther in March than they will

  4. namriverrat69 - Dec 16, 2012 at 7:50 PM

    Raphielle Johnson doesn’t give UA much credit for being able to hang around throughout the game to be in the position to win at the end. Everything is about Florida throwing the game away.l Florida is great a very impressive team and Dickie V. loves them. AZ is a very young team with a lot of raw talent as was previously stated. It will be fun to watch them mature and become a contender again. Sean Miller was the perfect coach to replace Lute Olson. I love this guy. He is organized, connects on a personal level with his players, is a terrific teacher and has a depth of insight to be able to adapt to changes that need to be made during the game. A huge plus is that his players love him.

    Lute Olson was very adept at making half-time adjustments. He was a great coach who recruited athletes and would develop each teams style to the talent he had. He was very flexible in his thinking and had an incredible ability to make the necessary changes as his games evolved. He was a great coach, hands down. Too bad he couldn’t have recorded another National Championship or two. AZ still gets to enjoy him as a fan at the home games.

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