Down by one point with under 10 seconds to go, the fate of the game was in Nick Johnson’s hands.
The freshman performed exceedingly well in an extremely difficult environment, as the suspension of Josiah Turner left Arizona shorthanded against the No. 12 Gators in Gainesville. Yet even with dire need of depth and height, the Cats found themselves a bucket away from a statement win.
But then in the blink of an eye, the basketball – along with Arizona’s chance of living up to unfairly high expectations – slipped out of bounds.
Now, a year later, Arizona will look to finally make a declaration of the program’s resurgence with a win over fifth ranked Florida on Saturday night.
Behind the guidance of coach Sean Miller, the Cats appear to have a team capable of competing for a national title not just next year, and the year after, but in 2013 as well.
Out with an undersized post, in with high school All American big men Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, and Grant Jerrett.
Perhaps even more important, no longer is the point guard position synonymous with uncertainty. Fifth year senior transfer Mark Lyons might not play in prototypical fashion but he sure knows how to win, exemplified most recently in leading Arizona’s comeback charge at Clemson.
However, the Cats are still an unproven bunch that is rightfully still lacking cross-country recognition. 30 point blowouts are nice and a victory in ACC territory always looks good but if this is a team with desires of being a top seed come Selection Sunday, a win versus the Gators is a prerequisite.
In order for Arizona to walk out of the McKale Center with that need victory, it must contain Florida’s scoring attack, something far easier said than done.
The Gators have a plethora of guys who can take over offensively, starting with sharp shooting point guard Kenny Boynton. Right behind him is the quintessential Erik Murphy, who can just as easily drain threes as he can pump fake, then drive through the lane.
Murphy along with Patric Young can terrorize opposing post defenders, meaning Arizona will need its big men to play far more assertive. If they don’t Young may put up similar numbers to his 25 point, 10 rebound performance against the Cats last season.\
Of course, the biggest concern facing Arizona is turnovers, a weakness that Florida will try to exploit. According to KenPom.com, Billy Donovan’s team ranks third in the country in defense efficiency.
Arizona’s coaching staff is well aware of the Gators’ prowess and have undoubtedly been drilling the importance of taking care of the basketball in practice this past week.
In a sport that stresses the need to be focused and precise at any given second, a slight mental error is all it takes for a game, and perhaps an entire season to slither out of control. No team better exemplified that than Arizona last year on the road in Florida.
But that was last year, on the road.
Now, back in the comforts of Tucson, the Cats have a chance of redeeming themselves. And with it comes a rare opportunity to prove to the entire college basketball world that Arizona is indeed back.