Florida v Arizona

No. 5 Florida’s failure to close halves proves costly in Tucson

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TUCSON – No. 5 Florida led No. 8 Arizona 64-58 with 1:17 remaining, and it looked like the 14,000-plus Wildcat fans inside McKale Center would not go home with a win to cap a day that began with their football team’s comeback at the New Mexico Bowl.

Both teams had other plans however, as the Gators were reckless with the basketball late (three turnovers in their final five possessions) and the Wildcats was more than willing to take advantage.

Arizona scored the final seven points of the game, with Mark Lyons’ driving basket with seven seconds remaining proving to be the difference in the 65-64 victory.

Florida entered Saturday’s contest averaging just 12.4 turnovers per game, with their two worst performances in that category coming in decisive victories over Wisconsin (20 turnovers) and Florida State (15). Florida finished tonight’s game with 14 turnovers, but many of their miscues coming in the latter stages of each half.

Florida controlled much of the contest but the moments that were the exception proved to be costly, as Arizona outscored the Gators 15-0 when looking at solely the final 1:20 of each half.

“For me it’s a tale of two halves, closing out the halves so to speak,” said Florida head coach Billy Donovan. “I told the guys at halftime, ‘if you’re going to lose the game, make them beat us’ and I felt we beat ourselves tonight, especially in the first half.

“We didn’t close out very well, we didn’t execute well enough. We’ve had issues with turnovers; it’s been a problem for us and it started in the Wisconsin game.

Arizona trailed 32-21 with 1:20 left in the first half, but an 8-0 run thanks to a pair of Nick Johnson three-pointers and a Solomon Hill dunk closed the gap to three at the intermission. Florida turned the ball over five times to Arizona’s eight in the first half, but the Wildcats outscored the Gators 9-8 in the points off turnovers category.

The second half proved to be more of the same for Florida, as they took control of the game only to have it slip from their grasp down the stretch. Three consecutive turnovers followed by two missed shots in the final minute plus and the Gators were on their way back to Gainesville with a tough loss.

Erik Murphy (ten points in the first half with just one turnover; six points with four turnovers in the second) struggled against Arizona’s smaller lineup in the second half, a move brought on primarily by starting center Kaleb Tarczewski’s foul trouble.

Solomon Hill led Arizona with 18 points, Johnson added 15 and Lyons 14 capped by his drive to the basket in the final seconds.

While the comeback was an impressive one for the Wildcats, who handed the Pac-12 a needed Christmas present in the form of the league’s first win over a non-conference opponent ranked in the Top 10 since 2009 (USC beat Tennessee 77-55), the biggest story will be about how Florida allowed a statement victory to slip away.

How Florida addresses its issues with turnovers and closing out halves will ultimately determine whether or not a team that’s reached the Elite 8 in each of the last two seasons can take the next step.

“What I love about this team is that we are never satisfied,” said Rosario, who finished the game with a team-high 16 points. “We have a lot of areas we can improve upon, and we just need to keep pressing through the rest of the season.”

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

No. 17 Arizona erases double-digit deficit to beat UCLA

Arizona coach Sean Miller reacts to a foul call during the first half of Arizona's NCAA college basketball game against UCLA, Friday, Feb 12, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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Allonzo Trier scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half and Parker Jackson-Cartwright scored 16 points in his second career start as No. 17 Arizona knocked off UCLA, 81-75, in Tucson on Friday night.

UCLA was up by as much as 11 points in the first half and took a ten point lead into half time, but in the second half, the Bruins were eventually done in by foul trouble and the stronger front line of the Wildcats.

Ryan Anderson and Kaleb Tarczewski were dominant down the stretch. The duo combined to score 12 of the last 23 point for the Wildcats, including the bucket that put the Wildcats ahead for the first time since early in the first half. Off of a missed free throw, UCLA’s Thomas Welsh battled with Tarczewski for the rebound, but when Welsh finally seemed to gain control of the loose ball, Anderson knocked it out of his hands and bullied through Jonah Bolden for a layup.

All told, those two combined for 20 points and 27 boards, seven of which were offensive. They also managed to foul out both Welsh and Tony Parker, although some of the calls that went against UCLA down the stretch were questionable.

The win keeps Arizona within a game of first place Oregon in the Pac-12 standings and tied for second with No. 23 USC, who will be visiting the McKale Center on Sunday night.

No. 23 USC falls at Arizona State

Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley applauds the efforts of his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arizona, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)
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No. 23 USC missed a golden opportunity to make up a game in the Pac-12 standings on Friday night.

No. 11 Oregon lost to Colorado on Thursday night, dropping back into a tie for first place in the league with the Trojans, a game ahead of No. 17 Arizona. But USC fell at Arizona State, 74-67, keeping them a game off of the pace that the Ducks have set.

The loss is even more painful when you consider that, on Sunday, the Trojans will be making the trip to Tucson to take on Arizona. The Wildcats are not what we have become accustomed to seeing under Sean Miller, but they are still a top 25 team and the McKale Center is still one of the toughest places in the country to get a win.

Thanks to Friday’s loss, instead of entering McKale with an outside chance of taking over sole possession of first place in the league, USC will have top hope they don’t fall two games off the pace.

As far as the game itself was concerned, USC committed 17 turnovers, shot 2-for-11 from three and gave up 16 offensive rebounds to Arizona State. That’s how you lose a game where you shoot better than 51 percent from the floor. USC was just never able to consistently get out into transition, and that caused them to struggle executing in the half court.

Nikola Jovanovic led the way with 25 points and 15 boards for USC.

Tra Holder’s 20 points made the difference for Arizona State, who kept themselves within striking distance of an at-large bid with the win.