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Bear Down Saturday: The wildest of Wildcat days

Nick Johnson

Nick Johnson celebrates a 3-point shot against Florida. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Solomon Hill finishing for two points. John Bonano kicking for one.

The basketball team forcing three turnovers in a 16-second span with less than a minute to play. The football team scoring 14 points in 27 seconds in the final minute.

Mark Lyons driving, undeterred and confident, for the game-winning basket. Matt Scott coolly connecting to Tyler Slavin for the game-winning 2-yard touchdown.

Nick Johnson proclaiming, “We’re the real deal.” Scott getting choked up, eyes red, when reflecting on his five seasons at Arizona.

It was one program, two teams and a pair of ridiculous comeback victories separated by less than eight hours and about 450 miles of driving distance on one glorious Saturday for the Arizona Wildcats.

Call it Bear Down Saturday.

It’s as if Rich Rodriguez’s football team and Sean Miller’s basketball team took December 15, wrapped it in a big cardinal-and-navy bow, presented to Arizona fans and said, “Happy Holidays!”

The eighth-ranked basketball team beat No. 5 Florida 65-64 in McKale Center on Saturday night, winning on Lyons’ bull-rush to the hoop with 7.1 seconds left.

The unranked football team stunned Nevada 49-48 in the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque for its eighth victory, tied for the most in a season since 1998.

The football team led for all of 19 seconds. The basketball team led for 1:24.

But each was ahead by one point when it mattered, imprinting indelible I-remember-when moments.

“It’s a great Saturday if you like Arizona,” Miller said.

“Gosh,” said senior center Kyle Quinn after the football victory, “that was amazing.”

The basketball team, trailing by six points in the final minute, came up with arguably its biggest home win in McKale in about a decade.

The football team, down 13 points with less than two minutes to play, produced one of its most improbable victories ever.

Not a day day for Arizona on ESPN.

“Both teams looked ugly for a moment,” Hill told reporters late last night in McKale Center. “We both made our share of bad plays, but we kept staying in there and fighting.”

Those were the echoes across Bear Down Saturday. Keep fighting.

Now, there’s not a coach who doesn’t preach that, and few athletes who fail to practice that. Arizona isn’t unique in that. But that doesn’t make it any less inspiring when that never-give-up-spirit combines with opportunity, execution — and a little luck — to construct, out of the thinnest of possibilities, a day like Saturday.

This is why you watch, right?

Because you never know.

Football is now over, the victory total washing away (well, mostly) the bitterness of the loss to Arizona State in the regular-season finale.

“It’s incredible just to go out and end my career — and the career of the seniors — like that and get this program going in the right way,” Quinn said. “Eight wins in year one with Coach Rod has been amazing. It’s indescribable almost.”

For basketball, this was the leap forward that plants the Cats as a serious threat in March.

“It’s a game that can change seasons,” Miller said.

No, Arizona didn’t win the national championship in basketball Saturday night. And the New Mexico Bowl is more than six degrees of separation from the Rose Bowl.

On Saturday, the scripts trumped the stakes. And the message from Bear Down Saturday was clear: “Keep fighting.”

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