Basketball win tops off day of ‘miracles’ for UA sports

Two miracles in one day.  Not bad for a college with no religious affiliation.

Saturday would have to be considered one of the biggest single-day successes in recent memory for University of Arizona sports  – and definitely one of the most thrilling.

In the afternoon, the Arizona football team won a bowl game to cap the first year under new head coach, Rich Rodriguez.  And they did it in spectacular, heart-stopping fashion by scoring two touchdowns in the final 90 seconds of the game to pull off a one-point, come-from-behind victory in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.  (Check out previous article for full details)

And then, in a late evening basketball game, Sean Miller‘s basketball team knocked off No. 5 Florida after being left for dead as the game clock in McKale Center wound down the final minute.

The Cats struggled to overcome an 11-point deficit throughout the second half and a comeback seemed just short of impossible as Florida held a six-point advantage going into the final 60 seconds of regulation.

As fans began getting up from their seats, the Cats sat them back down by attacking Florida with full-court pressure that created a couple of turnovers and helped pull Arizona to within one point after Grant Jerrett canned one of his two free-throw attempts.

The Gators helped the Cats’ cause by missing the front end of a free-throw opportunity and Arizona responded as Mark Lyons drove through the retreating Florida defense to put in the winning lay-up with seven seconds left.

A wild Florida three-point attempt at the buzzer missed the mark and the 65-64  victory pushed Arizona’s undefeated record to 8-0 and ushered in its fastest start during Miller’s four years as head coach – and the best since the 1998-99 squad opened with eight straight.

The unfortunate irony of the situation was that the football team was out in Albuquerque and unable to join the large crowd in Tucson that showed up to watch the first match-up at McKale in the last eight years between top-10 teams.

Florida earned its No. 5 national ranking with a defense that was allowing just 48 points a game and an offense that was winning games by an average margin of 25 points.

But No. 8-ranked Arizona was countering with an offense that was putting up nearly 80 points a game and enjoying a 20-point margin per outing.

That position at No. 8 should improve when the NCAA issues its new rankings, since Florida will move down now and top-ranked Indiana also lost.

This was a marquee  game that promised the best non-conference match-up on the day’s college basketball menu.  It had been anticipated for weeks – and it lived up to its billing.

Lyons, a graduate transfer from Xavier who had posted his first 20-point performance in the previous game against Clemson, finished with 14 points – but had two teammates scoring ahead of him.  Solomon Hill led the team with 18 points, which was also the game high, and Nick Johnson added 15 more.

This isn’t the first close encounter with Florida.  About this same time last year, the two teams took the game into overtime when Hill drained three free throws in the final four seconds to force overtime.

But this year’s meeting turned out much better for the Wildcats.  Last year, they lost 78-72.

This could become an annual rivalry between two of the better teams in the country.

And maybe next year, the football team won’t have to watch it on ESPN.