UA-FLA.

Arizona basketball: Win over Florida would pay off later

2012-12-15T00:01:00Z 2013-09-10T17:06:39Z Arizona basketball: Win over Florida would pay off laterBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 15, 2012 12:01 am  • 

To his credit, Arizona senior forward Solomon Hill routinely displays the same kind of intensity and effort pretty much no matter what team the Wildcats are playing.

But tonight's Arizona-Florida game is something else all together.

Isn't it?

"I treat it like the last games we've played here," Hill said. "The preparation is no different."

Uh-huh. And how about the other player that Arizona selected for pregame interviews this week, sophomore guard Nick Johnson?

"Like Solomon said, we're just going in there like it's another game," Johnson said. "I mean, it's just honoring the process and going into practice and preparing like we want to win the game."

Really? A top 10 matchup? Potentially the best game on UA's schedule all season? ESPN prime time coverage? The Wildcats' first sellout of the season?

That's it?

"That's the media's job," Hill said of the external hype. "We control what happens on the floor and in the gym in practice. Even the rankings are for the fans and the media to account for the teams."

So, at Hill's request, we'll get to work. Here are five reasons tonight's game is big:

1. It's the first matchup of two top 10 teams at McKale Center in nine years and only the fourth top 10 matchup anywhere in college basketball this season. Florida is ranked No. 5 in both major Top 25 polls, while the Wildcats are No. 8.

"Certainly, (with) both teams being ranked very high that probably draws a lot of national attention to the game," Florida coach Billy Donovan said at his news conference this week in Gainesville, Fla. "Whether or not we deserve to be five or not, I don't know. We haven't played enough games to warrant that."

Maybe not, but UA coach Sean Miller raved about the Gators' experience level, their offensive cohesion and their tenacious, ever-changing defense.

Beating Florida, Miller acknowledged, would send a statement of some sort.

"There's going to be a lot of people who will watch the game to see how good we are and how good Florida is," Miller said, "and no question when you play against a quality opponent the game matters even more."

2. It will matter in March.

With the NCAA selection committee having set precedent long ago that a team's entire season matters, with no more weight on late-season than early-season games, a December win over Florida could be enough to move UA from a No. 3 to a No. 2 seed, or something like that, in this year's NCAA tournament.

But to Miller, the effect of tonight's game isn't all about the seeding in March. It's about the performance in March.

"This is a huge nonconference game for both teams because it realizes a great opportunity," Miller said. "If we're fortunate enough to win, we all know that beating a team like Florida has great meaning because of how good they are. But either way, I know we're going to learn a lot about our team and we're going to be better because of this game."

3. The UA freshmen can grow up further.

Of all the tests Arizona's three freshmen big men have had so far this season, none is comparable to what they will face tonight.

Florida has one of the country's most physically imposing centers in Patric Young, a chiseled 6-foot-9-inch, 250-pound junior who dropped 25 points and 10 rebounds on the Wildcats last season.

Then there's power forward Erik Murphy, whose 6-10 frame belies a skilled face-up game that includes 42.9 percent three-point shooting.

"Murphy is a pick-and-pop four who likes to get out in transition," Hill said. The key is "watching film. It's been something we've really been going at in practice, getting (Brandon) Ashley and (Grant) Jerrett to watch and see what a game-changer he can be. We're going to try to get him off his game and everyone else."

4. Somebody's gotta hold up the Pac-12 banner.

While the Pac-12 collectively has begun stronger this season than last, and its lower-level teams are undoubtedly improved, the conference generally lacks marquee nonconference wins that can gain the country's attention.

This one can.

"It really matters to me, because I think the better our conference does as a whole in nonconference play, it puts our teams in the best position to get the most teams in the postseason," Miller said. "Bottom line, you earn respect before you play each other. For us to play Florida for a home game has great meaning."

5. The fans will care.

Even though the UA students are on winter break, their unclaimed seats have been sold to the general public and a crowd at or near the 14,538 capacity is expected.

In other words, it's a big game. For the fans, if nothing else.

Even Hill would agree to that.

"It will be a great atmosphere," Hill said. "We've had past games with 13,000, but you're talking about an electric crowd of more than that. Every possession is going to be loud.

"That's why you come to Arizona."

On StarNet: Follow the Cats on Bruce Pascoe's blog at azstarnet.com/pascoe

Ranked battles

Top-10 matchups in McKale Center history (with AP rankings )

Dec. 30, 1987 (1) Arizona 91, (9) Duke 85

Dec. 18, 1988 (9) Arizona 86, (10) UNLV 75

Jan. 12, 1991 (6) Arizona 82, (7) UCLA 77

Feb. 24, 1991 (9) Arizona 103, (7) Duke 96 (2OT)

*Jan. 11, 1992 (2) UCLA 89, (6) Arizona, 87*

Jan. 3, 1998 (8) Arizona 87, (9) UCLA 75

Feb. 28, 1998 (2) Arizona 90, (8) Stanford 58

Dec. 11, 1999 (2) Arizona 79, (4) Michigan State 68

March 9, 2000 (9) Arizona 86, (2) Stanford 81

Dec. 1, 2001 (8) Kansas 105, (4) Arizona 97

Dec. 15, 2002 (1) Arizona 73, (8) Texas 70

Jan. 10, 2004 (4) Stanford 82, (3) Arizona 72

* ended Arizona's 71-game homecourt win streak

Ranked matchups so far in 2012-13

Nov. 11, 2012 (9) Syracuse 62, (20) San Diego State 49

Nov. 13, 2012 (9) Duke 75, (3) Kentucky 68

Nov. 13, 2012 (21) Michigan State 67, (7) Kansas 64

Nov. 14, 2012 (10) Florida 74, (22) Wisconsin 56

Nov. 23, 2012 (2) Louisville 84, (13) Missouri 61

Nov. 24, 2012 (5) Duke 76, (2) Louisville 71

Nov. 27, 2012 (3) Michigan 79, (18) North Carolina State 72

Nov. 27, 2012 (1) Indiana 83, (14) North Carolina 59

Nov. 28, 2012 (2) Duke 73, (4) Ohio State 68

Dec. 8, 2012 (13) Illinois 85, (10) Gonzaga 74

Source: UA communication services

Today

• Who: No. 5 Florida (7-0) at No. 8 Arizona (7-0)

• When: 8 p.m.

• TV: ESPN

• Radio 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)

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