The 2012-13 Arizona basketball season was a wild ride full of frantic finishes and buzzer beaters, but the sweetest moment may have been one of the Wildcats’ early season games: a December 15th showdown against a #5 ranked Florida team.
The anticipation for the game was huge. Not only was a top 10 team coming to McKale Center, but it was realistically the Wildcats’ best chance at a marquee, tournament résumé building win. The stage was set, and the stakes were high.
That anticipation may have resulted in some nerves for the untested Wildcats. Florida led for nearly the entire first half behind their offensive execution and poise on the road. Arizona, meanwhile, sputtered on offense and couldn’t seem to stop Florida, even late in the shot clock.
Arizona’s first half woes were punctuated when the Gators opened up a double digit lead with less than five minutes before halftime. But then, as things often do in sports, the momentum shifted radically in what was an eerie foreshadowing of the end of the game.
The Wildcats held Florida scoreless for the last three minutes of the half, forcing them into turnovers and low percentage looks. Nick Johnson also got things going, sparking Arizona with back to back three pointers before a Solomon Hill dunk that cut the lead to just 32-29 at halftime.
The McKale Center crowd already had their stomachs turned upside down, and it was only halftime. That feeling of dread when a game is slipping away was quickly replaced by hope.
But the second half didn’t start smoothly for the Wildcats. Five minutes into the half Florida had increased their lead to 9 points, and continued their solid play to a 54-43 lead with just under 10 minutes left.
Arizona found it’s offense at the right time however, going on a 15-7 run over the next five minutes and cutting the lead to 61-58 with 4:56 left to play.
Just when it seemed like Arizona was back, the air seemed to have left the ball. Not only did Florida nail a dagger of a three to increase the lead to 64-58, but Arizona missed all three shots and two free throw attempts from the 4:00 minute mark to the 1:00 mark.
But that’s when things got nuts.
With 56 seconds to go, Kevin Parrom made two free throws after Nick Johnson forced a Florida turnover. Sensing the urgency, Arizona ratcheted up the defensive intensity and caused another Gator turnover off the inbounds play. Hill converted a quick layup, bringing the Cats within 64-62 with 43 seconds to go.
Florida struggled with Arizona’s sudden burst of energy, and Johnson forced yet another steal that led to a frantic shuffle for the ball before Grant Jerrett was fouled while shooting, sending him to the line with a chance to tie the game.
Arizona had seemingly done the impossible. Down 6 points with under a minute to go, against a team that had executed well all night, the Wildcats somehow turned the tables in the blink of an eye. Jerrett was going to the line to tie the game with 26 seconds on the clock.
He missed the first one, and everyone in McKale let out a deflating sigh. They had been so close, but had come up just a point short after Jerrett converted the next attempt. With the shot clock off, Arizona had to foul to extend the game.
The Gators got the ball to the right man, a 90% free throw shooter in Kenny Boynton. It was exactly what they wanted, and exactly what Arizona fans didn’t want. Boynton could extend the lead to three and the Gators could go back and play defense for the win.
Boynton’s free throw rattled out before Johnson corralled a defensive rebound with 21 seconds left. The Wildcats, who fought valiantly before coming up just a hair short, now had the ball in their hands with a chance to win.
The next play will forever be etched in Wildcat fans’ memories. Senior Mark Lyons, whose veins carry not blood but ice water, gestured dramatically for a screen. Lyons went full speed and turned the corner, met by Florida big man Patric Young. Young played the shot just like he should have; he moved his feet, kept his arms straight up, and didn’t foul.
But Lyons kissed in a sweet one handed runner off the glass and blew the lid off McKale. With just 7 seconds to go, Florida scrambled to get a shot but Mike Rosario tripped as the final seconds ticked off and Florida was forced to throw up a heave that never had a chance.
Stunned but elated, no fans made moves for the exit while the team and onlookers celebrated what was one of the most improbable victories the program had ever seen. Watch the frantic final minute of play below and relive this great moment in Wildcat history!