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ESPN analyst: Arizona ‘must be taken seriously’ as title contender

Down 64-58 with just over a minute to play against No. 5 Florida on their home floor Saturday night, Sean Miller and the UA men’s basketball team looked headed for their first loss in 2012-13.

But basketball is a game of bounces, as the Wildcats so convincingly proved over the final 61 seconds of play. UA closed the game on a 7-0 run, thanks to three forced turnovers, a missed free throw by Gators guard Kenny Boynton (a 90-percent shooter from the charity stripe this season) and a nifty game-winning bucket with seven ticks remaining by transfer Mark Lyons.

The Wildcats shocked the Gators 65-64 at the McKale Center — in the first matchup of top 10 teams in Tucson since 2004 — to remain unbeaten, and in doing so received some well-deserved national attention.

While ESPN analyst Andy Katz named Butler his team of the week, after the Bulldogs upset No. 1 Indiana in overtime Saturday afternoon, he still had plenty of nice things to say about UA.

The Wildcats had to claw back to beat previously undefeated Florida in the final seven seconds Saturday night, and the win caps off a tremendous week for the Wildcats after they won a week ago at Clemson. Arizona is the clear favorite in the Pac-12 and now must be taken seriously as a national title contender.

There are plenty of flaws with this squad, but one of the most pressing is youth inside. That will improve over time. Arizona showed plenty of grit in its win over Florida. The Wildcats head to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic, and wins there over San Diego State, Ole Miss or Miami would continue to prove this team’s growth.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Saturday’s win was the first by a Pac-12 team over a non-conference opponent ranked in the top 5, since Arizona beat No. 4 Gonzaga back in December 2008.

UA is off to its best start (8-0) since Lute Olsen’s squad began the 1998-99 season with eight straight victories.