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College Basketball

Arizona perseveres, takes advantage of Florida's lack of discipline

Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Mark Lyons' game-winning drive helped No. 8 Arizona hand No. 5 Florida its first loss.

Two hours of evidence was presented Saturday night in the form of Arizona's ragged, rugged, stunning and ultimately thrilling 65-64 comeback win over Florida, but if there were a judge presiding over the proceedings, it's unclear whether he would be able to give a jury proper instruction.

Both teams provided contradicting testimony as to their preparedness to be a true national contender come March. Some facts on each side seem indisputable. Other statements created more questions than answers. In one particular case, we assumed the statute of limitations had expired, but recidivism reared its ugly head. In the end, a decision was rendered, but will it ultimately hold up under appeal?

Let's play back some of the crucial testimony and see what the judge rules:

1. To the question of "Did Arizona deserve to win this game?"

Lead counsel for the plaintiff, Sean Miller: "There's nobody who watched that game that said anything other than 'Boy, Arizona pulled that one out.' But I've also been on the other end of that spectrum where I feel like we've been the better team, but you have to finish. And we did it. We finished."

Lead counsel for the defense, Billy Donovan: "It was a tale of two halves, closing out the halves, so to speak. I told the guys at the half, 'If we're going to lose the game, make them beat us,' and we beat ourselves tonight, especially in the first half."

And, later on...

"We certainly played well enough to win and in my opinion, really outplayed them for most of the game. But that doesn't make a difference. It's a 40-minute game."

Judge's ruling: Sustained. Both coaches similarly felt that Florida was the better team over the bulk of the game and that the Gators' lack of discipline and execution down the stretch of both halves helped hand Arizona a win that it may not have deserved but earned with their perseverance and execution. Florida allowed an 11-point lead with under a minute and a half left in the first half dwindle to three at the break in the span of three Arizona possessions. Then the Gators somehow outdid themselves, blowing a six-point lead in the final 1:01 of the second half with a final five possessions of turnover, turnover, turnover, missed front end of a 1-and-1, long airball heave. Uggggghhhhh.

2. To the question of "Is this becoming a pattern of gags for this core group of Gators?"

Defense counsel Donovan, speaking in part about the turnovers: "Again, we didn't close out very well. We didn't execute well enough. We've had issues with turnovers. It has been an issue for us. It's been a problem for us."

And then, later...

"I'm concerned just because this is a problem for our team that we need to get better at. I think we can correct it, but there's a carelessness with the ball. Not being strong with the ball. All of them. Never mind the last three or four possessions, just being strong with the ball in the last six minutes of the game and getting fouled."

Co-defendant Patric Young: "I thought we did a good job taking care of Arizona's offense. We forced turnovers and made sure we got back in transition. We were able to keep them from taking the shots they wanted, but they have a lot of good players that ended up being able to handle the pressure."

Judge's ruling: Sustained. The ending of this game had eerie undertones of Florida's Elite Eight exits the past two seasons, and during the game tonight on Twitter, I likened the Gators to a cramping triathlete trying to get to the finish line. A few of the faces have changed, but the Young/Boynton/Murphy core has been there through all of this. Maybe that's a harsh judgment, but history is starting to pile up pretty heavily on the side that this team has trouble closing in big spots. Young's ending comment about pressure also was interesting. He may have primarily been referencing Arizona's players withstanding the impact of Florida's defense, which caused the Wildcats issues for a good part of the game, but you can also read it as an indictment of the Gators' ability to handle that kind of a spot.

3. To the question of "What can we take away from the point guard play tonight?"

Defense counsel Donovan: "I was concerned a little bit about that. I thought I probably played Boynton at the point too much tonight, probably. I think the last two games, it's affected his shooting ... he's out there a lot of minutes, he's pressing, and Scottie out there with the broken finger."

Plaintiff counsel Miller: "To be the point guard is much different both on offense and defense, and to play with an entire group you've never met until this summer, that, too, has its challenges."

And, later...

"He unraveled for a few minutes in the first half, but he was able to put that behind him."

Judge's ruling: Overruled. Both head coaches sought to minimize the impact of the key protagonists, Florida's Kenny Boynton and Arizona's Mark Lyons, but the various shades of truth in this contest were available for the public to see.

From Florida's standpoint, at least there's the excuse of Wilbekin's injury, and we have seen clearly so far this year that the Gators run a much smoother ship with the pass-first guard running the offense and Boynton and fellow shooting guard Mike Rosario playing off that as much as possible. Tonight, Wilbekin spent much of the game as a decoy, and even when he tried to facilitate, it was labored due to his bandaged finger. That left Boynton with the ball in his hands in the waning moments of both halves, and the results were not good at all. He missed a jumper and then committed a killer turnover to allow Arizona a dunk to end the first half, and he had a turnover and the rimmed-out free throw in the final minute. Boynton simply can't be the lead ballhandler in big spots.

Arizona's issues are more subtle, interpretive and potentially longer-lasting. Lyons isn't a point guard. He's trying to fill that role with another guard who can handle in Nick Johnson, but essentially the Wildcats' halfcourt offense is a mystery bag each time down the floor. Sometimes they end up running good stuff and it works. Sometimes they run good stuff and fumble a chance away. Sometimes it's bad. Even as the young frontcourt talent develops, can a team with a clear void at the 1 make a deep run? In a single-elimination tournament like the NCAAs, that tends to be a very dicey proposition.

With all of the main points of contention clarified, the judge can now adequately instruct the jury.

After much deliberation, by virtue of their pulsating last-second win and overall youth, the jury finds the Wildcats not guilty (for now) of the charges against them. As for the Gators, the jury finds them guilty by reason of inanity. They shall be remanded to Gainesville to seek further help.

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