HONOLULU - With a roster that's basically half full of combo guards, the Arizona Wildcats don't have to put the ball in Mark Lyons' hands all of the time.
But it's looking like a pretty good idea to do so when the game is on the line.
For the second time in 11 days Tuesday, Lyons made a game-winning offensive play against a ranked team when he hit two free throws to give UA the winning margin over San Diego State in the Diamond Head Classic championship.
On Dec. 15 against Florida, Lyons drove in for a layup that gave the Wildcats a 65-64 win over Florida. On Tuesday, he drove in on San Diego State and picked up a foul, making both free throws to give UA a 68-67 lead with 13 seconds left, and defensive plays by Nick Johnson and Kevin Parrom secured the win.
For Lyons, the clutch offense continued a trend that included a game-tying layup he made for Xavier to send an ESPN2-televised game at Vanderbilt last season into overtime, all because of a confidence that UA coach Sean Miller has seen for years.
That's why Miller recruited Lyons out of high school for Xavier and re-recruited him last spring, when Lyons opted to transfer for his final year of eligibility.
"There's some guys who can really thrive under pressure, and he's one of them," Miller said after Tuesday's Diamond Head Classic final. "I knew that about him a long time ago. I knew Mark when he was 16 years old, and he had that about him then, and he obviously since then has gone through an awful lot.
"He's gone through more big games than any guard that's playing college basketball when you think about two Sweet 16s he's been in. … He's at home in these situations, and I think our team really benefits from his confidence and his toughness."
Here's a breakdown of Lyons' past three big offensive moments:
Xavier 82, Vanderbilt 70 (OT)
• Nov. 28, 2011
• At Nashville, Tenn.
Xavier trailed Vanderbilt by up to 10 points but made a big defensive stop and then received a spinning layup from Lyons with 6.5 seconds left to tie the game at 66. The game then went into overtime, and teammate Tu Holloway scored 10 of his 24 total points after regulation to help the Musketeers win 82-70.
"It's all 'cause of my backcourt main man, Tu Holloway," Lyons said after that game. "I love him because of the way he plays. (He's) a killer on the court, and he won the game for us in overtime."
Reflecting on the Xavier-Vanderbilt game after his shot beat Florida earlier this month, Lyons said Holloway inspired him to make big shots in the clutch.
The shot "kind of put me on a different stage, and my confidence went up from there," Lyons said.
Arizona 65, Florida 64
• Dec. 15, 2012
• At McKale Center
After the first few minutes, Arizona trailed the Gators for the entire game until Lyons drove down the baseline for a layup with seven seconds left, and the Wildcats hung on for the win.
Miller said he likes to have his players drive for a final shot because they have a chance to pick up a foul or an offensive rebound even if the shot does not go in.
Lyons said he took advantage of a defensive switch that had Florida big man Patric Young suddenly guarding him.
"I felt like that was a mismatch for me," Lyons said.
"I tried to take him one-on-one, and it worked out."
Arizona 68, San Diego State 67
• Dec. 25, 2012
• At Honolulu
After the Aztecs took an eight-point lead early in the second half, neither team led by no more than two points in the final 10 minutes. The game was also tied nine times in the final 10:16.
So with 27.7 seconds left, Arizona called a timeout and put the ball in Lyons' hands for their final offensive play. Lyons took the ball at the top of the key and, when SDSU switched on screens, drove inside to the left of the basket and was fouled as he shot.
Lyons made both free throws, including a second one after San Diego State called timeout.
"I just told Coach, 'Just give me the ball and let me make something happen,' " Lyons said. "We set a ball screen, I went to the hole and got fouled."
Miller said Lyons was the first option if the Aztecs switched, though there were plans to get either Solomon Hill or Parrom involved if needed.
"Mark made a real strong drive, which you want at the end of games," Miller said. "He got fouled and made two free throws. … That was that plan: get the switch and then attack, and that's what he did."
When asked afterward about his confidence in late-game situations, Lyons said it was more about the fact that his teammates had confidence in him to pull it off.
"They knew 'Put the ball in his hands and he's going to make us better,'" Lyons said. "That's what I wanted to do. I wasn't going to shoot necessarily, but that was the best option at the time.
"There's no reason to be nervous. I've been working on my craft my whole life. So you just go out there and execute the things that you know you can do."
On StarNet: Follow the Cats on Bruce Pascoe's blog at azstarnet.com/pascoe
• What: Colorado at No. 3 Arizona
• Where: McKale Center
• When: 6 p.m. Thursday
• TV; radio: ESPNU; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)