Florida v Arizona

Contributions both large and small set stage for Mark Lyons’ gamewinner

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TUCSON — The moment Arizona fans have been clamoring for was finally here. Even with an Elite 8 appearance in 2011 there had yet to be a “marquee” game at McKale Center reminiscent of the days when Lute Olson ran the show.

That all changed on Saturday night, as the No. 8 Wildcats hosted No. 5 Florida in the first matchup of Top 10 teams at McKale since 2004. And even though it was Mark Lyons’ drive to the basket that capped a rally in the final minute to give Arizona the 65-64 victory, a “return” to last season put the Wildcats in position to remain undefeated.

That “return” to last season was Arizona going small, a move that happened mainly because freshman 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski was in foul trouble for much of the night.

Head coach Sean Miller continued to play two big men at the same time with Tarczewski on the bench in the first half but the moving of Solomon Hill onto Erik Murphy helped limit the senior in the second, as Murphy looked far too comfortable in scoring his ten first-half points.

Murphy would score six points in the second half but Arizona’s ability to pressure him and take away those pick and pop opportunities that he tends to feast on led to four of his five turnovers. Just as important as Arizona’s defending of Murphy was the fact that they didn’t allow Patric Young to go off, something that cost them dearly in last year’s meeting.

Young tallied 25 points (12-of-15 shooting) and ten rebounds (six offensive) in last year 78-72 triumph in Gainesville, with Arizona lacking the bodies needed to keep him in check. With Tarczewski on the bench his classmates had to step up and that they did, even though Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett combining for five points (all from Jerrett) and six rebounds doesn’t look like much in the box score.

Young finished Saturday’s game with just eight points and two rebounds, with Arizona’s young big men making him work for his post touches. Both Ashley and Jerrett factored into the equation, with Ashley also helping the Wildcats when they needed to press late.

Jerrett also knocked down two important baseline jumpers down the stretch, displaying a confidence that not all freshmen would have when they’ve gone scoreless for that long.

“We had a freshman make two huge baseline shots that gave us the opportunity to make that comeback,” said Miller.

Hill (18 points) and Nick Johnson (15) led the way offensively along with Lyons, but the contributions of players like Jerrett, Ashley and Kevin Parrom (seven points, four rebounds and three assists) set the stage for Lyons’ finish. While there’s a lot of work to be done (and many games left to be played) it bodes well for the future that guys were able to step up in different areas.

“One thing I like about our team is that each of our players has taken turns,” Miller remarked. “Even when one of our guys has an off night, the team as a collective group is able to make up for that. On any one night, any of our players can have a great night.”

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

VIDEO: Duke’s Grayson Allen beats No. 7 Virginia at the buzzer

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Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia sparks come-from-behind win over No. 13 Louisville

Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia (32) goes up for a shot over Boston College’s Idy Diallo (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
(AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
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Demetrius Jackson scored 20 of his 25 points in the first half and Steve Vasturia scored 15 of his 20 points in the final 20 minutes as Notre Dame landed a 71-66 win over No. 13 Louisville on Saturday afternoon.

The Fighting Irish trailed by as many as 11 points early in the second half, but Vasturia’s hot shooting combined with Notre Dame holding Louisville to just 15 points in the final 15 minutes made all the difference.

The Fighting Irish are not as good as they were last season, but they are built in a similar mold. Jackson, as we expected, as become one of the nation’s most dynamic point guards, impossible to slow-down in isolation and ball-screen actions. Steve Vasturia emerging as a legitimate secondary option offensively and Zach Auguste is one of the nation’s most underrated big men and one of the most dangerous as the roll-man in ball-screens.

Combine all of that with a handful of shooters creating space and Bonzie Colson’s emergence as a force on the offensive glass, and Mike Brey once again has one of the nation’s most lethal offensive attacks.

Where they struggle is on the defensive end of the floor, which is what makes the end of Saturday’s win so meaningful. The Irish entered the day ranked 232nd in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, which more or less means they’re as good as a bad mid-major program at keeping their opponents from scoring.

But they don’t have to be great to be able to win games.

They have to be good enough and they have to get important stops.

That’s precisely what happened on Saturday.

Whether or not that actually becomes a trend for this group will be something to monitor — it happened for Duke during last year’s NCAA tournament — but the bottom-line is this: Notre Dame does something better than just about anyone else in college basketball, and that’s score the ball.

On the nights they are able to gets some stops, they are going to be able to win some games. In the last eight days, they’ve proven that, beating North Carolina, Clemson on the road and Louisville.

And that makes them dangerous in March.