Basketball notes: Arizona's record breaking ranking
Arizona men’s basketball picked up one school record on Monday and is one game away from tying another.
After a dominating 91-68 victory over rival ASU, the No. 1 Wildcats were on top of the AP Top 25 for the seventh week in a row, a school record. The 2002-03 Wildcats were No. 1 for six weeks to open the season and were top-ranked for 13 weeks overall.
Arizona has already made history by becoming the school’s first team to begin a season 17-0. This week the UA (now 18-0, 5-0 Pac-12) received 61 of 65 potential first place votes, with No. 2 Syracuse picking up the rest.
The Wildcats are one win away from tying Basketball Hall-of-Famer and former head coach Lute Olson’s school-winning streak of 19 in 1992-93, which he duplicated in 1997-98.
Junior guards Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell are two big reasons for the Wildcats’ success this season. Johnson averages a team-leading 16.3 points per game and shoots 81.9 percent from the free throw line. He is the team’s vocal leader on the court, and one of the best defensive players in the nation.
Johnson emphasized that the team cannot begin to become complacent, despite its undefeated record, and that in the locker room, the focus is strictly on the next game.
“We’re just trying to take this one game at a time; this is our dream,” Johnson said. “We are living our dreams right now, being the No. 1 team in the country. [We] know we have a target on our back every single game, but we take that as a challenge and we know we are going to get everybody’s best shot, so we just have to prepare in practice and keep things going.”
In the program’s history, the Wildcats have been ranked No. 1 for a total of 36 weeks. That is second in Pac-12 history behind UCLA and ninth in the country since 1949.
McConnell, a transfer from Duquesne who was forced to sit out last year due to NCAA regulations, has burst onto the scene as Arizona’s first true pass-first point guard in years and runs the court with pristine efficiency. He has compiled a team-leading 112 assists and 35 steals.
McConnell said that the team has been meshing well.
“We’re unselfish — everyone is unselfish, not just one guy,” McConnell said. “We can score at any position, that’s what makes us so dangerous. I think we are pretty tough to stop.”
Arizona’s balance remains key in 18-0 start
This year’s team boasts tremendous balance and strength, both offensively and defensively. In Arizona’s game against ASU last week, seven Wildcats enjoyed double-digit performances.
McConnell has recently shown off his shooting ability — breaking double digits in his past two games, including a season-high 19 points against USC.
“I kind of feel like people don’t respect my shot,” McConnell said. “[While] I haven’t taken a lot of outside shot this year, I’ve worked hard this summer, and when we have off days I work on my 3-point shot. I have confidence in it, and if they’re going to back off, I’m going to shoot it.”
Over the past three games, he is 14-for-23 from the field and 7-for-12 from beyond the 3-point line. On the season, he is shooting with 47.2 percent accuracy from the field and averages 7.4 points and 6.2 assists per game.
While McConnell has been putting up respectable numbers, they are by no means a full representation of one of the Wildcats’ veteran leaders. The hustle and intensity that he brings and his selfless gameplay elevate the team to a whole different level.
“He’s going to make people around him look great, and that makes him look good,” sophomore guard Gabe York said. “I think people kind of look past him a little bit, but I think he’s the biggest key factor to our team.”
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