One of Sean Miller's coaching strategies with the Arizona Wildcats is to divide games into 10 "four-minute wars," the segments that are divided by media timeouts.
While Miller puts a big emphasis on winning the first one in each half, winning both of the last ones Saturday worked out pretty well for Arizona. The Wildcats beat Florida 65-64 with late surges at the end of each half, pulling out a win despite leading the game only for a total of 84 seconds.
Here's how the fifth "war" in each half played out:
• The problem: Arizona trailed 32-21 with 3:06 left in the first half, with the Wildcats having missed six of their first seven three-pointers. The Eastern portion of ESPN's nationwide late-night audience might have been tempted to opt for sleep, figuring it was a blowout in the making.
"Coach said at halftime we had probably three or four great shots in the first half, and we weren't hitting them," UA guard Nick Johnson said. "We were getting great shots in their zone."
• The stops: The Wildcats did not allow the Gators to score for the final three minutes, even when Florida picked up four offensive rebounds in a span of 8 seconds with about two minutes left.
• The shots: Johnson singlehandedly put an end to the three-point issue, by hitting bombs with 1:20 left and 56 seconds left, cutting the Gators' lead to 32-27. Mark Lyons assisted Johnson on the first shot while Solomon Hill did so on the second.
Already, the Wildcats had more than cut the lead in half heading into halftime. Then it became even better for UA: Hill stole the ball from Florida's Kenny Boynton with 5 seconds left, then raced downcourt for a dunk to cut the Gators' lead to just 32-29 entering the break, firing up both the Wildcats and their sellout crowd of 14,545 noisy fans.
"We just wanted to stay with it, come out and win the fifth war," Johnson said. "That's what we did. We got out on the break and just hit shots."
• The problem: The Wildcats again trailed by up to 11 points in the second half, and were down by six, 64-58, with only a minute to go. The normally steady Johnson even missed two free throws nearing the final two minutes while Lyons and Kevin Parrom both missed threes over the next minute, and the Wildcats appeared stuck.
• The stops: Suddenly, with the help of Arizona's pressure defense - one that Hill said the Wildcats never practiced - the Gators' offenses began to unravel.
With 56 seconds left, Johnson stole the ball from Florida guard Mike Rosario, and that led to two free throws from Parrom, who made them both to cut Florida's lead to 64-60.
Rosario then turned the ball over again when he tried to inbound it to Scottie Wilbekin and the ball rolled out of bounds. Miller had substituted Brandon Ashley for Grant Jerrett before the play, even though Ashley struggled most of the game.
"Brandon is the longest guy on our team and … we put him in knowing it would be difficult (for Florida) to throw it deep or around him," Miller said. "But the other four guys (also helped create the turnover). I'm sure they're saying they didn't execute, didn't finish there, and that's probably not a good feeling for them."
That was true.
Florida coach Billy Donovan said "we didn't close out very well," while center Patric Young said the Gators "couldn't quite handle their pressure and I think that's what cost us the game."
Johnson then stole another one with 39 seconds left, this time from Boynton, and that led to a drive by Hill, who ultimately passed it to Jerrett on the baseline because of a crowd under the basket.
Jerrett hit 1 of 2 free throws to pull UA within 64-63 and, after Boynton missed the front end of a one-and-one, Arizona had a final play.
• The shot: Arizona had 21 seconds for its final play, and with 7 seconds remaining, Lyons opted to drive inside for the game-winning layup once he saw the 245-pound Young switched out on him.
"Honestly, I thought about my teammate last year (at Xavier), Tu Holloway, what he used to do in the clutch-making, big-time plays," Lyons said. "I saw Patric Young on me and I felt like that was a mismatch for me. I tried to take him one on one and it worked out."
For Miller, the outcome was a nice justification of his time-out philosophy, which was scrutinized last season. In a 64-63 loss at Colorado last season, Miller did not have a timeout to set up a final play when the Wildcats had a final chance to win the game, saying he used earlier timeouts to strategically keep the Wildcats rested and in the game at the high-altitude Coors Events Center.
"For the record, I didn't call a timeout" against Florida, Miller said. "A year ago, when I didn't call a timeout, it started to become a call, like 'What's wrong with Miller?' So when you don't call a timeout, you put the ball in a player's hands and you hope he can make a play.
"The reason we didn't call a timeout tonight was that Florida's so good at being able to play a zone or a man (defense) and you don't know what they're going to be in. They also can make the ball hard to get inbounds (after a time out). And you have to have players step up in big moments and make big shots and tonight, thank goodness, we made the big shot."
For the Wildcats, it was a lesson learned in perseverance, that a win is possible even when it seems impossible against one of college basketball's top teams. After the first three minutes of the game, the Gators led entirely until Lyons made the game-winner; Miller even said he "almost felt guilty" taking a win away from Florida.
"These are moments that can change seasons," Miller said. "You get outplayed for a majority of the game and you're down big at home. We would have grown a lot from the game (with a loss); we would have been fine. It wasn't the end-all if we would have lost.
"I'll flip it and say we didn't win the national championship (Saturday), but what we did do was we have a win in our pocket that's going to be very, very meaningful because Florida isn't a good team - I think they have the makings of a great team."
On StarNet: Check out more photos from Arizona's win over Florida at azstarnet.com/gallery
• Who: Oral Roberts (5-4) at No. 8 Arizona (8-0)
• When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
• TV: Pac-12 Arizona
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)