Sunday, December 16, 2012
Lyons' toughness guides Wildcats to win
By Myron Medcalf
They go by different names that all carry the same meaning.
Gamers. Go-to guys. Ballers. Stars.
Take your pick.
This breed usually reveals itself with the game on the line, the clock winding down. In those moments, its representatives don’t hope, they act.
With seconds to play in his team’s 65-64 win over No. 5 Florida, Arizona’s Mark Lyons ran a play called Mark Lyons. The McKale Center was his stage. And everyone on the floor knew it.
His pupils probably widened when he noticed Florida big man Patric Young near the 3-point line, arms wide and hips low. Lyons attacked, put a shoulder into Young’s broad chest and finished the layup with 7.1 seconds to go.
A final Florida 3-pointer missed the rim.
“So much at the end of the game is an individual player making a big play,” Arizona coach Sean Miller told ESPN.com. “Some players are built for big moments. He’s one of them.”
Last weekend, Lyons led the Wildcats through a rocky stretch against Clemson. A week later, he shook off an early funk and scored the game-winner against a Florida team that had whipped most of its previous opponents.
A year ago, he was just a villain.
On Dec. 10, 2011, Lyons participated in a brawl between his former Xavier teammates and their crosstown rivals at Cincinnati. He was suspended but ultimately returned and helped the Musketeers reach the Sweet 16. But he chose to part ways with the program in the offseason and transfer to Arizona.
The latter seemed like the perfect fit for Lyons. Miller had talent but Arizona needed more swagger. Enter Lyons, who quickly infused the program with his bravado.
“He’s added that belief, that confidence, that toughness in us,” Miller said.
As Florida expanded its lead in the first half Saturday, Lyons snapped, anger mostly directed toward himself after a few turnovers. He also aimed some of it at his teammates.
“We had to calm him down,” said Solomon Hill, who scored a game-high 18 points.
Once he relaxed, the team relaxed.
As the Wildcats pressured in the second half, they made the Gators look as vulnerable as they had all year.
Florida had embarrassed the bulk of the teams on its nonconference schedule entering Saturday’s matchup. Wisconsin by 18. Marquette by 33. Florida State, on the road, by 25.
And the Wildcats nearly suffered a similar fate against the Gators, who led by double-digits midway through the second half. Then, they turned on their newly acquired grit and cut Florida’s lead to three in the last three minutes of the game. But that run seemed to stall for good as they missed 3-pointers and free throws late. Miller, however, wouldn’t let his team end the night like that.
“We just wanted to throw one last press at them,” Miller said.
With 1:01 to play, the Wildcats forced three turnovers over a span of 18 seconds. Hill drove and scored. Kevin Parrom made a pair of free throws, Grant Jerrett collected another.
A one-point game.
Earlier in the day, the Arizona football team defeated Nevada, 49-48, in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl with a dramatic comeback in the fourth quarter. Hours later, Wildcats fans were set to witness more theatrics as Lyons drove by Young with seconds on the game clock in Tucson.
“Before I looked up, he was already at the rim,” Hill said. “You have to believe in a guy like that.”