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Column: T.J. McConnell should be a frontrunner for the Pac-12 POY award

Arizona men's basketball point guard T.J. McConnell should be considered a frontrunner for the Pac-12 POY award

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Tyler Baker and Tyler Baker | The Daily Wildcat Tyler Baker/The Daily Wildcat

While it was Arizona men’s basketball point guard T.J. McConnell who provided the humor on Wednesday, it was Arizona head coach Sean Miller laughing on Friday.

Two days after McConnell joked that he was just at the post game press conference so he wouldn’t “get fined,” the No. 6 Wildcats (20-2, 8-1 Pac-12 Conference) yet again got the last laugh when they beat Oregon State 57-34.

Afterward, Miller couldn’t help but smile and chuckle at the notion that McConnell is the only one of the top Wildcats who doesn’t get NBA talk.

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“He does it in all facets of the game, he does it every day and he’s the only guy that nobody talks about playing in the NBA,” Miller said. “I have no idea why he can’t play in the NBA. I know he can.”

The story going into the second leg of their Oregon State series was how the Wildcats were seeking revenge for their 58-56 loss to OSU in Corvallis, Ore. However, that was quickly forgotten after the Wildcats pounded the Beavers.

The focus wasn’t even on Arizona winning its 34th straight home game, extending its overall win streak to six games or even getting to the 20-win plateau.

It was mostly on McConnell.

“Arizona is tough,” Oregon State head coach Wayne Tinkle said. “McConnell is my player of the year. He is everything to his team.”

Despite playing only 30 minutes against OSU, McConnell got pretty close to achieving seldom seen steals and points triple-double. He had eight steals, scored seven points, dished out six assists and even recorded a block.

Miller agreed with Pac-12 Networks color commentator Bill Walton that McConnell is the best player in the conference so far this season.

“You can come to a lot of games in McKale [Center] for the next 50 years,” Miller said Friday, “and very seldom will you see a player have eight steals in one game, and he only played 30 minutes. He was dominant on the defensive end.”

When asked about his stat line, pass-first point guard McConnell gave credit to forward Brandon Ashley, who scored a game-high 12 points on Friday.

“It’s not a bad day at the office, but we won, and that’s all I care about,” McConnell said. “I got to credit [Ashley] for most of my assists.”

While Arizona’s best player is freshman forward Stanley Johnson, who had eight points against OSU and 12 versus Oregon, McConnell is the most reliable Wildcat. He is first in the Pac-12 in assist-to-turnover ratio with 3.28, third in assists with 5.82 assists per game and third in steals with 2.18 steals per game.

“Six assists tonight was more like 10, because it was such a low-possession game,” Miller said on Friday. “He’s playing at a very high level.”

While his natural M.O. is to pass, when Arizona needs McConnell to score, he scores, as he when he had a UA career-high 21 at Oregon on Jan. 8. Last week against the Ducks, he was 5-for-5 from the floor.

McConnell is even averaging 3.9 rebounds per game, not that much less than the 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski, who averages 4.8 rebounds per game.

McConnell is such a do-it-all type player that he may have even tried his hand at drama on Friday, looking like he was injured, with the Wildcats already missing his backup, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, with a concussion.

“He loves drama,” Miller said. “He gives you that look like, ‘It’s all over.’ That commercial, I thought it was all over, and then he gets back up and he’s fine.”

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.


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Updated July 15, 2021