King of the court: Lyons' clutch shot cements his role as a Wildcat
Was it pretty? No. Convincing? Not a chance. No matter how it happened, though, Arizona's win over No. 5 Florida marks the legitimacy of the Wildcats, and even more, the arrival of Mark Lyons.
With the clock winding down in Arizona's 65-64 win against the Gators, and the UA trailing by one, Lyons took UF's Patric Young off the dribble, blazed past him and softly kissed the ball of the glass for the game-winning shot. It hadn't been a great game for Lyons, especially in his point guard role — he only recorded two assists on the night and had three turnovers. He struggled early against Florida's full court press and made a couple ugly passes throughout the game.
But when the game was on the line the ball was placed in his hands, and he delivered.
"We believe in a lot of guys on this team, but nobody believes in Mark Lyons more than me," head coach Sean Miller said. "I've seen him since he's been in tenth grade and some guys are wired for the big stage, the big moment and that big shot he wants to take it.
"No question, when he drove I knew something good was going to happen."
The jury is still out on Lyons as a point guard. The transition from the two-guard to the primary ball handler has been rocky at best — he has two more turnovers than assists through his first eight games in the role (20 assists compared to 22). And when his shot doesn't fall, like his 0-for-7 night against Southern Miss, he almost disappears out on the court.
Still, when UF's Kenny Boynton missed the front end of a one-and-one, the keys were handed over to Lyons and he took it home. He might be a new face on the court and playing in a position out of his comfort zone, but he's already taken the role as the go-to guy with the game on the line.
Senior Solomon Hill is the designated leader of the team, and made several crucial plays in the waning minutes of the game. Sophomore Nick Johnson clearly lacks the experience of the two seniors, but he's been the Wildcats' most consistent player throughout the start of the season.
But the ball was still deferred to Lyons. The decision was the right one, as he drove the ball straight into the heart of a great Florida defense and hit the second-most important shot of his life, according to Lyons. That in itself shows the confidence he has and the team has in him.
Lyons said the shot against Florida falls second to a game-tying shot he hit for Xavier last season on the road at then-No. 19 Vanderbilt. His jumper with 6.5 seconds remaining sent the game into overtime.
"It kind of put me on a different stage and my confidence went up from there," Lyons said.
In the extra period, Xavier's other talented guard Tu Holloway took over, scoring 10 points in overtime and the Musketeers went on to win a statement game. Lyons said he looks to Holloway's big play ability for inspiration in the clutch and, at least against Florida, it worked.
After the game Miller said it's unfair to judge Lyons' performance at point guard through eight games since he's had to adjust to playing an entirely different position on a whole new team. Something that's easing the transition, though, is a relationship similar to that of Lyons and Holloway in Xavier — only this time around the roles are reversed.
Now Lyons is the grizzled veteran at the point while a younger combo guard, Johnson, is developing next to him as a complementary player. Miller feels that the Xavier transfer is learning each and every game how to play in his new role, but the emergence of Johnson is also helping out the cause.
"I've been a confident guy since I stepped in the door (at Tucson) because of guys like (Hill and Johnson)," Lyons said. "They give me the confidence and I feed off them. They made great plays and I just finished the game for us."
The stats back it up as well. Johnson leads the team with 29 assists, and only has 12 turnovers on the season. As the end of the game proved, though, with the game on the line the ball was trusted to Lyons and he came through.
Lyons might not be the perfect point guard, but he's already established he can be the answer. It didn't take long for Lyons to assert himself as a leader on the team — that happened almost the moment he walked in the door, according to his teammates. Now his toughness and unrelenting confidence have rubbed off onto the young Wildcats roster.
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