In almost every way, the long-awaited Arizona-Florida Top 10 matchup lived up to expectations.
Except that the lower-ranked team won.
Eighth-ranked Arizona pulled off a stunning 65-64 victory over the fifth-ranked Gators with late flurries that finished off both halves. Two late Florida turnovers and a missed free throw by Florida’s Kenny Boynton led to the Wildcats’ game-winner, a driving layup from Mark Lyons with seven seconds left.
Lyons finished with 14 points and was named the MVP of what was designated as the Fiesta Bowl Classic game, while senior forward Solomon Hill had 18 points and keyed the second-half comeback after a difficult first half.
Nick Johnson also added 15 points and three assists for Arizona while Florida was led by forward Erik Murphy, who had 15 points and seven rebounds.
The win moved Arizona to 8-0, having split the two-year series with Florida, which won in overtime last season in Gainesville, Fla.
The Wildcats will now host Oral Roberts on Tuesday before heading to the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu next week. The fifth-ranked Gators dropped to 7-1.
The Wildcats and Gators put on a well-played game worthy of a Top 10 matchup, with McKale Center’s first sellout crowd of the season on its feet for much of the game. Both teams played at a furious pace, but with Arizona struggling at times from the three-point arc and inside before turnovers ultimately did in the Gators.
The Wildcats cut the Gators’ lead to 61-58 with five minutes left. Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin hit a rim-rattling three pointer with 2:35 left and while Kevin Parrom hit two free throws to make it 64-60 before a final flurry of Florida turnovers put the game up in the air.
With 56 seconds left, Mike Rosario fed an inbounds pass to Scottie Wilbekin that rolled out of bounds, leading to a driving layup from Hill that cut Florida’s lead to 64-62. Another Florida turnover, this time from Boynton, with 39 seconds left led to another Hill drive to the basket – but Hill passed to Grant Jerrett, who was fouled.
Jerrett then hit 1 of 2 free throws to move the Wildcats within 64-63 and, after Boynton missed the front end of a one-and-one, the Wildcats received the game-winner from Lyons.
The Wildcats struggled inside, with Brandon Ashley scoreless and Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett getting four points each. Tarczewski fouled out with 5:27 to go, struggling to deal with Florida big man Patric Young, who had eight points.
But the biggest problem inside for the Wildcats was power forward Erik Murphy, who had 15 points and seven rebounds.
Three-pointers from Nick Johnson and Mark Lyons cut Florida’s lead to 61-58 with five minutes left.
The Wildcats went on a 7-0 run midway through the second half to cut Florida’s lead to 54-50 with 8:22 left. While Boynton quickly answered with a three-pointer, Hill drove inside for a layup on UA’s next possession.
Arizona trailed by just three at halftime but could not cut it any further early in the second half. Murphy and Hill traded three-pointers early and Florida took a 39-32 lead after two layups.
The Wildcats fell behind by 10 when Will Yegete scored inside with 12 minutes left, when Arizona still had not received a single second-half point from its four big men. Mike Rosario then hit a three-pointer from the corner to put Florida up 54-43 before the Wildcats rallied again.
A frantic late first half rally helped Arizona cut Florida’s lead to just 32-29 at halftime.
The Gators led 30-19 with four minutes left when Erik Murphy hit a three-pointer but the Wildcats surrendered only a basket from center Patric Young the rest of the way while their offense finally took off.
Arizona only made one of its first seven three-pointers but Johnson hit one with 1:21 let to make it 32-24, then came back for another on UA’s next possession, making it 32-27.
As UA’s first sellout crowd of the season roared, Wilbekin missed a layup in the final minute and Arizona also had an unexpected chance at the basket after Boynton lost the ball near midcourt.
Hill picked up the ball and raced downcourt for a dunk with a second left to cut UA’s halftime deficit to three.
Johnson led the Wildcats in first-half scoring with eight points while Lyons had seven. Murphy led Florida with 10 points and three rebounds.
The Wildcats cut it to 18-15 on a layup by Lyons but never came any closer in the first half. Murphy tipped one in to give Florida a 20-15 with 6:54 and the Gators went on a 9-2 run.
Florida led 30-19 by the time Murphy made a three-pointer with four minutes left in the half.
The Wildcats started out effectively, scoring on their first three possessions and taking a 7-5 early lead. But they then had two turnovers while allowing a three pointer by Rosario that gave Florida an 8-7 lead and the Wildcats never led again in the half.