For almost a month, it has seemed like the Wildcats have been living on borrowed time. Time expired last night.
A four-point loss to Oregon in Eugene dropped No. 4 University of Arizona from the ranks of the unbeaten, and most assuredly from its spot on the nation’s Top 5 list. The un-ranked Ducks extended their home winning streak to 17 by building an 11-point lead at the half and then held on the rest of the way for a 70-66 victory.
The Cats (14-1, 2-1) built up a 14-0 record but have been teetering on the brink of upset since mid-December when Florida had them on the ropes until a Mark Lyons lay-up with seven seconds left to play gave them a heart-stopping win over the Gators, ranked No. 5 at the time.
Arizona was down by six points as the final minute started, which made the win all the more amazing.
Their last three wins have been decided in crunch time: a one-point victory over San Diego State, an overtime win against Colorado, and a three-point decision against Utah.
They needed the victory against San Diego State to clinch the Christmas Day championship of the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii and give them some momentum going into the Pac-12 opener the next week.
The Aztecs were just seconds from claiming their own tournament title when Arizona’s high-flying Nick Johnson swept in to block a break-away lay-up that would have won the game for SDS. Neither team led by more than two points during the final 10 minutes of the game.
Solomon Hill hit 21 points to keep the Cats, who shot just 37 per cent from the field, in the game. He was named the tournament’s MVP.
In the conference opener against Colorado, the Cats had to depend on a video replay to help them keep their win streak alive. Colorado’s Sabatino Chen banked in a three-point shot at the buzzer to apparently win the game, but officials ruled it didn’t leave his hand before time expired.
Arizona had to climb out of a 16-point hole in the second half and then had to go on a 10-2 run in the final 1:35 of regulation to force the overtime and go on to a 92-83 victory. To add a little more pixie dust to this win, the Buffaloes missed four of their six free throws down the stretch.
And, finally, the basketball gods smiled once again in the last game when they didn’t have to overcome a huge lead against Utah, but had to hold on to a slim one. And they did that thanks to getting the right bounce on a last-second shot.
Utah’s guard, Jarred DuBois, took the last shot of the game to try to send it into overtime, but his shot hit the rim, bounced off the top of the backboard, and then fell down onto the rim once more before landing on the floor. Arizona escaped with a 60-57 win and one game closer to the school record for best starts. That record, 16 straight wins, has stood for 81 years.
Last night, Florida made sure that record will stand for at least another year.
The Gators (13-2, 2-0) looked like they would be win No. 15 for the Cats when the game started, as Arizona jumped out to a 11-0 lead. But Florida outscored the visitors, 41-19, the rest of the way in the first half.
Arizona rallied in the second half, getting as close as 67-63 with just over a minute to go, but the Gators dropped in seven of nine free throws down the final stretch to hold on for their second win against a ranked opponent this season.
Lyons led the Cats’ scoring with 21 points, followed by Hill with 16, and Johnson with 12.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)