T.J. McConnell coming up big for Arizona
When the No. 2 Arizona Wildcats defeated Oregon 67-65 in McKale Center on Thursday evening, the outcome of the game came down to a single shot.
A 3-pointer by junior guard T.J. McConnell with 1:33 left completed Arizona’s comeback against the Ducks, who held a lead for nearly the entire second half.
“Someone always hits the big shot,” shooting guard Nick Johnson said after Thursday’s win. “Tonight it was T.J. You look in 22 games, there was one time we didn’t hit the big shot.”
While McConnell may have hit the biggest shot of the night, he only made two of his nine shots from the floor.
T.J. McConnell surveys the court on Sunday's 54-76 win against Oregon State at McKale Center.
“You know, everyone was just telling me to keep shooting,” McConnell said after Thursday’s win. “The coaches and Nick came up to me and said, ‘You’re going to make the next one.’”
McConnell sunk his second attempt from behind the perimeter early in the second period, but came up empty on his third, fourth and fifth.
McConnell’s value to the Wildcats’ team continued on Sunday in Arizona’s 76-54 victory over Oregon State. McConnell wasn’t needed for a clutch basket, so he proved his worth in other ways. The 6-foot-1 guard had six rebounds against the Beavers, a significant number for someone who plays far away from the basket.
But with the loss of Brandon Ashley, head coach Sean Miller needs even his guards to anticipate grabbing the long rebounds.
“Now our guards have to get in there and block out and get the long [rebounds],” Miller said after Sunday’s game. “We talked a lot about it after the Oregon game, during the Oregon game. That was the biggest emphasis going into [the Oregon State] game.”
Miller went on to say that the Wildcats’ win over Oregon was “the best thing that could have ever happened us.”
The Oregon game showed Arizona that it can win even without Ashley, and gave them the confidence and a game plan to attack a stern frontcourt like Oregon State’s.
While Arizona is now increasing emphasis on guards grabbing rebounds, freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson represents the most important piece for the Wildcats.
The new starter needs to be confident in his new role and at his new position. Miller said that, with the injury to Ashley, Hollis-Jefferson will now be playing close to the basket more often than he ever has before.
Confidence was key to Hollis-Jefferson’s success against Oregon. Prior to Thursday’s game he was averaging 23.5 minutes of playing time. Against Oregon he played for 34 minutes. He compiled a double-double in the contest, scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
On Sunday against Oregon State, Hollis-Jefferson continued to shine and saw his point total increase to 16 points and help on the glass with 5 rebounds, 3 of which were offensive.
“He’s a warrior,” McConnell said of Hollis-Jefferson. “I tell him that everyday: ‘You have that warrior’s mentality and they can’t take that from you.’ He just goes out there and outworks people and we all love that.”
—Follow Evan Rosenfeld @EvanRosenfeld17