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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: T.J. McConnell should be the frontrunner for Pac-12 Player of Year award

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah —It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Wildcats pulled out the
win they needed to stay in the race for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. For
the second consecutive season, the Arizona Wildcats squeaked out a narrow victory over Utah in the Jon M. Huntsman Center, with this season’s game ending
in a 63-57 Arizona win.

Four Wildcats scored in double-figures, with Kaleb
Tarczewski leading the team with 13 points. Stanley Johnson recorded a
double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Gabe York came through with
several key plays down the stretch en route to 12 points.

One Wildcat who may not jump off the score sheet is T.J.
McConnell. After all, the senior scored just seven points on 2-6 shooting. In
today’s college basketball world where scoring is valued, McConnell jumps off
the page in a much different way.

Apart from points, McConnell recorded five rebounds, five
assists and played solid defense on every Ute, from Delon Wright to
Brandon Taylor. He does so many things that don’t have anything to do with
scoring, which is a huge reason why Arizona defeated Utah on Saturday night.

His all-around game continues to pace the Wildcats to what
could be another deep run in March.

McConnell’s teammates praised him after the game for his
selflessness and ability to contribute across the board.

“He’s a great basketball player,” York said. “He’s the one who makes this
team work. … He’s the one diving for loose balls more than anyone I know. You have a basketball
player who is so unselfish … yet one of our best players. It makes it easy
for everyone to love him and also to follow his lead.”

In the interim, McConnell has solidified his place as the
front runner for the Pac-12 Player of the Year award. As Arizona coach Sean
Miller said after the game: Often, the best player on the best team wins the
award.

“Our coaches pretty much operate from the standpoint of
whoever the champion is — or certainly that’s had a great year — deserves the
individual accolades, and I’m sure that won’t change.” Miller said.

Other players who may have a shot at the award include Utah’s
Delon Wright, Stanford’s Chasson Randle and Oregon’s Joe Young. To put
McConnell anywhere but the top of that list would be foolish.

As Arizona players and coaches alike continue to say, this
team would be nowhere without McConnell. That’s not really a knock on backup
point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, either. It’s more of a testament to how
important McConnell is to this team.

With Gonzaga losing to BYU on Saturday night, the
opportunity is there for Arizona to grab the No. 1 in the West region. Doing so
would likely mean Arizona wins the Pac-12 tournament and remains with three
losses.

If that’s the case, Miller’s prediction of the best player
on the best team winning the Pac-12 Player of the Year award should come true.
It has to, right? To everyone but T.J. McConnell, that seems to be the case.

“If I win it, that’s great. If I don’t, that’s fine too,”
McConnell said.

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Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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