HANSEN

Greg Hansen: Lyons has dreaded 0-for, but Cats find a way

2012-12-05T00:00:00Z 2012-12-05T00:17:15Z Greg Hansen: Lyons has dreaded 0-for, but Cats find a wayGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 05, 2012 12:00 am  • 

After Mark Lyons' first missed shot, a long-three point attempt two minutes into the game, a fan immediately behind press row bellowed, "THAT'S TOO FAR OUT, MAN."

Four minutes later, after Lyons missed a deep three-pointer, another guy shouted, "YOU SHOOT TOO MUCH."

So you might imagine the tenor from the not-so-cheap seats when Lyons went to the foul line with 12:35 remaining and 13,419 freaked-out fans fell silent, saying a basketball prayer that Lyons would make a free throw in a 45-44 game.

He was, at that moment, scoreless.

He was 0 for 6 from the field.

He bricked both free throws.

A fan sitting about two feet from my ears screamed, "GET HIM OUT OF THERE!"

Mark Lyons has played in 104 college basketball games and he knows what it is to go 0-for-the night, or close. He was 1 for 11 from the field a year ago when Xavier lost at Florida. As a sophomore he was 0 for 6 from the field at Kansas State in another of the Musketeers' infrequent losses.

On Tuesday night at McKale Center, Lyons finished 0 for 7, but this time the outcome was much different.

Arizona found a way to beat Southern Miss 63-55, giving Lyons and his teammates a reprieve in a game that, let's face it, woulda, shoulda, coulda put Southern Mississippi near the top of ESPN's next 24 hour highlights package.

How often do you commit 27 turnovers and win? Arizona had gone 13 years without throwing the ball away that many times.

How often does your senior point guard, according to Sean Miller, lose his confidence and yet stay on the court for 29 minutes and play effective enough, as a leader and a defensive player, to help avoid a colossal upset?

Maybe once a year.

So this was the great escape, December edition, one that actually seemed to energize and encourage Miller. More than anybody, he knew that most teams would've lost Tuesday. He all but smacked his lips and said, "Bring on Clemson."

"I think this was a great lesson for our freshmen," said Miller. "It was a man's game tonight. If there was a loose ball, well, get out of the way. We learned some tough lessons out there tonight."

Miller was in an upbeat mood because his toughest and most admired player, Kevin Parrom, was a rock in the second half. It was a Big East-type game played by a Pac-12 school with a history of softness. If that's what this team shows this year, it is indeed a promising signal.

"At halftime," said Parrom, "coach basically looked at the seniors and said 'what you guys gonna do?' He wasn't yelling at us; we knew what we had to do."

Lyons is the lightning road of this year's Arizona basketball team because too much of the chatter has been about his conversion from shooting guard to point guard.

What some fail to understand is that Lyons' presence goes far beyond being a point guard. He is a good player. He is a scoring threat, and because of that the other Wildcats get more open shots.

Nick Johnson never had so many free looks at the hoop as he did Tuesday, scoring 23 points. A lot of it was that Southern Miss had to account for Lyons, even when he had a historically bad night.

A successful point guard doesn't need to be a passing virtuoso, like Bob Cousy or Jason Kidd. What matters is that Lyons makes Arizona better, and on Tuesday, even though he wasn't better himself, his team was good enough to win.

As Miller said, "It's a game a month from now no one will talk about."

Johnson not only mitigated Lyons' 0-for-7 shooting performance, he also excused it.

"He didn't shoot the ball as great as he could, but he hit two key free throws down the stretch," said Johnson. "When he's on the floor, everybody listens. He knows. He's a senior. He knows he's going to have games like that. He did a good job on his man defensively. He's doing the little things to help us win."

This is a good sign, right? Johnson fell on the sword for Lyons Tuesday night. You wouldn't get that from a teammate who, like so fans, bellow that Lyons shoots too much.

Here's a powerful number: Lyons entered Tuesday's game with a True Shooting Percentage of .708. That's basketball's newest statistic, a tool that measures the value of layups, three-pointers and free throws much the same way baseball computes all of its statistical minutia.

In the NBA last year, James Harden was considered the leading TSP player. His percentage was .660. Even with Lyons' off performance Tuesday, he is still at .628, and that's because he follows Miller's plan, which is to shoot layups and three-pointers and attack the basket.

"It's not like his attitude left him," said Miller. "In fairness, Mark's playing with a new group of guys and it's the beginning of December. No doubt he'll get better and better as the season goes on."

The same goes for the Wildcats. They won on a night their treasured freshmen, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett, combined to score one point. Add Lyons to the group, and the three players shot 0 for 8 from the field.

How do you win a game like that?

Usually, you don't.

The flight to Clemson can't get here soon enough.

On StarNet: Read the live chat transcript of the game at live.azstarnet.com

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