Arizona Wildcats basketball seniors take a final bow, give valiant Sweet Sixteen effort
Mark Lyons walks off the court after Arizona lost to Ohio State 73-70 in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament on March 28, 2013. Lyons scored 23 points in the final game of his career.
LOS ANGELES — Kevin Parrom sat by his locker, head down.
A reporter asked him how he felt.
He breathed in, and five seconds later, breathed out.
“Man,” he said. “It was a tough game.”
His UA career is over. Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons? Done.
And it all came down to one shot — a three-pointer from LaQuinton Ross.
Arizona was two seconds away from overtime, and a shot at the Elite Eight, but Ross hit an open look from beyond the arc. Once the two seconds finally ticked away, so to did the careers of Arizona’s senior leaders.
This was Lyons’ third Sweet Sixteen loss — he played in two at Xavier before transferring to Arizona this year — but this one hurt the most.
“This is the closest I’ve ever been to the Elite Eight,” Lyons said. “By far the closest I’ve been. We lost on one possession, it wasn’t just the last possession but losing on one last shot it makes it harder. Sometimes you just wish you lost by 30, make it seem like you wasn’t supposed to be here. But, we know we got here as a team and we knew we were good enough to be here.”
They were good enough to be here because of Hill, because of Lyons. Parrom didn’t have his best game — seven points on 2-of-8 shooting — but Arizona was here because of Parrom too.
Lyons was a polarizing figure in his short, one-year stint at the UA. The Wildcats wouldn’t have been in the Sweet Sixteen without him, though.
He scored 73 points in three games at the NCAA tournament, and he and Hill saved the Wildcats from a shoddy second half — they trailed by 10 points after leading by 11 in the first half — willing them to that final possession.
They combined for 22 points in the second half. Hill brought the Wildcats back from the 10-point deficit, Lyons scored Arizona’s final seven points and tied the game at 70-70 with 21 seconds on the clock.
“When I first got here, I felt like we both we wanted to be the leaders,” Lyons said. “We both didn’t know how to play off each other, but if you watched us in the past couple of months, we feed off each other.”
Lyons’ decision to come to the UA, despite an enticing offer to play for John Calipari at Kentucky, came full circle on Thursday night, loss be damned.
Before Lyons made his final decision last year to come to the UA, he texted Hill. He texted Parrom. And he texted Nick Johnson. He wanted to make sure there was room for another personality, another leader and another scorer on the Wildcats.
It seems there was.
“We understand each other,” Hill said. “Everyone understood that he was a scorer. It was up to me and Nick and Kevin to pick up in some other areas. We had no problem with that, everybody was upset that he was gonna score, but it was cool with us.”
Hill was at the UA for four years; Lyons wanted to step in and be a leader from day one.
And with all the bad press attached to Lyons from the brawl he took part in with the Musketeers against Cincinnati last year, the risk of him butting heads with Hill was prevalent. But it never happened.
Josiah Turner left the Wildcats in a bind, but Lyons untwisted it. Without Lyons, the Wildcats would have had Jordin Mayes as their starting point guard.
Mayes was good for the Wildcats in the last month, but he’s no starting point guard.
Lyons was controversial, but he was confident. He was clutch. Arizona won 27 games with him as its point man; it might not have won 20 without him.
And the Wildcats certainly wouldn’t have without Hill, and probably not without Parrom.
When it was over, and Hill’s college career had just ended with a heartbreaking loss, he was surprisingly upbeat.
He didn’t have time for reflection just yet and he was certainly upset with losing.
But he was still happy.
“It’s the best four years of my life,” Hill said, “and it’s disappointing the way it ended, but we played our game. So we can’t be mad about it.
“Its been fun. These were the best four years of my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love these guys.”