Florida vs. Arizona: The Wildcats' shot at a statement game

Al Messerschmidt

The Arizona Wildcats and Florida Gators face off in the first top-10 matchup in McKale Center since 2004.

Time: 8 p.m. MST

TV: ESPN

Florida and Arizona battled it out last year when neither team knew its identity. The Wildcats turned out to be an undersized, somewhat dysfunctional team that went on to play in the NIT despite playing the ranked Gators tough. Billy Donovan's squad, while more successful and with a potential NBA star in Bradley Beal, took a while to grow into the Elite Eight squad.

The two teams come into Saturday night's game in McKale Center with a lot of similarities, the most obvious being experience.

The Gators have established college basketball stars in Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Patric Young. Much like Arizona's Solomon Hill, Mark Lyons and Kevin Parrom, the three range from solid college role player to potential NBA role player, and the Lyons-Boynton comparison especially has a lot to latch on to.

Both point guards have NBA aspirations, but that's dependent on them proving worthy of running a team. They're both seniors who are sliding into the point guard slot, Lyons after his transfer and Boynton after firecracker Erving Walker's departure. Each of their performances will go a long way in how their teams do on Saturday.

Despite losing two starters from last season, the Gators have only gotten better.

Aside from Beal and Walker leaving, the Gators are the same team as last year's squad that the Wildcats took to overtime; that only means they're experienced. Florida has earned the No. 6 ranking and 7-0 start because of their defense. They press heavily, and while Arizona has seen that with Clemson, the Wildcats haven't seen it against a team quite like the Gators.

Per ESPN:

Florida Defense Past 2 Seasons

'11-12 '12-13
Defensive efficiency< 97.0 75.9
Opponent turnover pct. 19% 27%
FG pct. 42% 35%

>Points allowed per 100 possessions

The Wildcats proved capable of scoring decently against Clemson last week, and they are eighth in the nation by averaging a whopping 117 points per 100 possessions.

What'll make this one?

No. 8 Arizona (7-0) will be challenged with taking care of the ball -- yet again. Lyons proved against the Tigers last week that he's going to make teams pay for overplaying him, mostly by scoring. Young will likely be waiting for him at the cup, and the point guard's decision-making at that point will set the tone for the Wildcats.

If and when the Wildcats successfully break the press and find themselves forcing Florida into help situations, then they'll still have to make shots. Hill, Parrom and Nick Johnson will obviously need to help out Lyons from the turnover standpoint and by hitting shots.

It would be surprising for any of Sean Miller's young big men to have big games on offense. They must only worry about defense and limiting mistakes as Arizona hopes to do as they do best -- working inside-out.

A loss may not be telling of where the Wildcats will be come the end of the year. But a win?

A win will be a major statement to the rest of the the college basketball nation.

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