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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: T.J. McConnell passes, shoots his way to an Arizona victory

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Tyler Baker
Tyler Baker / The Daily Wildcat

Arizona basketball floor general T.J. McConnell is such a pass first point guard that his Twitter handle is @iPass4Zona, but lately he’s been shooting for Zona too and it’s paid off.

McConnell sparked No. 10 Arizona’s 69-51 “upset” of No. 8 Utah on Saturday in McKale Center. He scored 16 points on 8-for-10 shooting, had one steal, three rebounds and six assists.

McConnell lead the Wildcats while forward Stanley Johnson scored zero in the first half and Utah star Delon Wright scored the Utes first seven points. Johnson would finish with a game-high 18 points and Wright with 10, but it was McConnell who led the Wildcats back from the brink, eventually tying it at 24 with 5:27 left in the first half after the Wildcats trailed for much of the first period.

“Coach uses the analogy that he sometimes drives the car of the team, he’s the heart and soul and when his face gets red and he’s pumping his veins, that’s every day for him,” Johnson said. “He wants to win every competition, he wants to win every game and he hates making mistakes and he does it because he loves all of us.”

The Utes went up 10-2 after about five and a half minutes. After a media timeout, McConnell hit a jump shot, then another on Arizona’s next possession. He would go on to make four of Arizona’s seven field goals and got an assist on one of those three field goals he didn’t make.

“T.J. McConnell was excellent for 40 minutes, but we really needed him in the first half and I think a big reason we were winning was because of his outstanding play on both ends in the first 20 minutes,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said.

For months Miller has praised McConnell’s shooting, while the athlete said eventually coaching staff, himself and his teammates convinced him to shoot for Zona more. He scored a UA career-high 21 points in their 80-62 win at Oregon last week.

“T.J. can shoot the basketball, it’s what I always talk about,” Miller said. “He’s a career 40 percent 3-pointer.”

Johnson said McConnell scoring more helps the UA, since everyone expects him to just pass for Zona.

“When we need it, he does it and I think that’s the flip side to what we do, because as you think he’s not going to shoot, now he shoots and now you got to play all of us,” Johnson said. “I think he’s probably the best point guard in the country and probably one of the best teammates on our team. He makes it easier for all of us.”

McConnell’s scoring average is up to 9.1 points per game, fourth on the team. It was 7.6 before the Oregon trip.

While Miller has racked up top-five or top-10 recruiting class after recruiting class, he said he thinks the fifth year point guard who transferred from Duquesne after his sophomore year, may be his biggest get on the recruiting trail

“T.J. came here with very little fanfare, but I can make the argument that no player that we’ve brought here, during my time, has been more instrumental toward winning than him,” Miller said. “I don’t care where he’s ranked, where he’s from, he’s been here for three years and the year that he didn’t play, he made our team so much better by his practice habits and then obviously the last two years speak for themselves.”

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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