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The Daily Wildcat

 

Basketball notes: Arizona moves up to No. 7 in polls

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Tyler Baker
Tyler Baker / The Daily Wildcat

Fresh off back-to-back wins over Colorado and then-No. 8 and now-No. 12 Utah, the Arizona men’s basketball team has jumped from No. 10 to No. 7 in both this week’s AP Top 25 poll and the USA Today Coaches Poll. 

The two dominant wins, combined with losses for then-No. 6 Louisville, Utah and then-No. 9 Kansas, allowed Arizona (16-2, 4-1 Pac-12 Conference) to climb higher in the polls. The Wildcats are just 54 points behind No. 6 Wisconsin and hold a sizeable 173-point margin over No. 8 Notre Dame.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller said he’s not really worried about rankings or outside noise.

“For us, it’s trying to really stay with the process,” Miller said. “Practice matters, coaching these players matters, improvement, how much better can our team get, not really being distracted by what people are saying about us, good or bad.”

Regardless, after starting out the season at No. 2 overall, Arizona has a great chance to jump back in the top five with big road games against Stanford and California looming large this weekend. Not to mention the road trips to Washington and Utah still on the schedule.
As a side note, Arizona has now been ranked in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 poll for 31 consecutive weeks.

Stan continues to be the Man

Freshman standout Stanley Johnson has been named the Pac-12 and NCAA.com Player of the Week for his performances in victories over Colorado and Utah this past week. Johnson averaged 20 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 2.0 assists for an Arizona team that won both games by double-digits.

This is the second time this season Johnson was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week, as he earned the award on Dec. 1 for his performance during Arizona’s Maui Invitational championship run.

“We have this saying, ‘All in,’ [and] he’s just really bought into that,” Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell said. “In the beginning, it was tough for all of us, playing with new guys. Stanley has really bought in and been all in, and it shows by the ways he’s been playing and the way the team’s been playing.”

Johnson joins Cal’s Tyrone Wallace as the only two players to win more than one Pac-12 Player of the Week award this season.

In McConnell they trust

Even from the outside looking in, McConnell’s value to this Arizona team cannot be understated. The fifth-year senior holds season averages of 9.1 points, 5.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 2.1 steals and has an assist to turnover ratio of 3.12.

McConnell has taken up a score-when-necessary role, as he often scores when the Wildcats need it most. Just look at the first half of the Utah game. McConnell put up 12 points and easily made up for the combined four points from Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and the entirety of the bench.

As McConnell put it, his play is a combination of the coaching staff telling him to be more aggressive in taking what the defense gives him.
“It’s a little bit of both — coach Miller has told me to be more aggressive,” McConnell said. “He’s telling me to be aggressive, and I’m just letting the game come to me. We were a little stagnant on offense in the beginning [against Utah], and I saw my opportunity to give us a little spark. It worked out for us.”

As the season progresses, having a version of McConnell who can both pass and shoot should be a deadly weapon for Miller and his staff to make use of.

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Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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