A human body has no purpose without a healthy, beating heart. A heart allows the body to breathe, move and function properly. Without a heart, a body is simply dispensable.
The heart of Arizona basketball is senior point guard T. J. McConnell.
As the evident leader for the Wildcats, McConnell has the ability to contribute across the board. His selfless style of play is proven, as he averages 10.1 points per game but also 6.3 assists per game.
His versatile offense is noticeable on paper, but McConnell captures national attention because of his uncanny ability to read the floor and thrive on defense.
His gritty attitude and lockdown defense leads the team in steals with 2.2 per game. With 80 steals just this season, McConnell has the fourth-best single-season steal record in Arizona basketball history.
Let’s not forget that McConnell is barely 6-foot-1 and manages to average 3.9 rebounds per game. This puts him as the fifth-best rebounder on the Arizona basketball team. What can’t McConnell do?
As athletically talented as he is, McConnell possesses a desire to win that cannot be taught or coached. He leaves everything on the court and pours his entire heart and soul into every game.
With this said, McConnell is in his senior year, and he will not let his collegiate career end without a fight. The team owes it to McConnell to make it farther than they or anyone believes they can.
McConnell has pumped a desire to win into the veins of his team and it has manifested into watching Arizona play a beautiful game of basketball.
Throughout the season, teammates, coaches, fans and analysts have all said that Arizona would not be anywhere without McConnell. That is not discrediting the talent that the Arizona roster possesses, but more proof to how valuable McConnell is to the team.
A body cannot beat without a heart, and Arizona cannot win without T.J. McConnell.
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They say defense wins championships, and the phrase couldn’t apply more to Arizona’s spirited and electrifying forward, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
In a world of offensively minded players, Hollis-Jefferson focuses on his defense to drive his flow. He accepts the challenge of guarding the opposing team’s biggest threat and, more often than not, shuts them down.
His 6-foot-7 frame makes it difficult for other players to get around. The sophomore leads his team in blocks with 32 this season and is third in steals (41), behind T.J. McConnell and Stanley Johnson.
He also paves the way for Arizona in rebounding, averaging 6.9 per game and 250 total rebounds this year.
It’s only after he plays defense that Hollis-Jefferson’s offense starts to flow. Granted, he’s also third on the team in scoring, averaging 11.3 points per game.
Rondae has a motto: CHAP, which stands for calm, humble and patient. As humble as he is, I would switch “humble” for “hungry.”
He was snuffed from the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award and didn’t take it well on Twitter, saying, “I don’t know about everyone else, but I put my heart and soul into defense[.] So with that being said ‘Motivation.’ Thanks everyone that cares.”
In Arizona’s two games since the NCAA Tournament started, Hollis-Jefferson has that motivation. He’s averaging a double-double, grabbing 10 boards each game and averaging 17 points, including a career-high 23 points against Texas Southern in the Round of 64.
And a lot of people care. Arizona fans rally around Hollis-Jefferson because he’s personable and takes the time with his fans. He’s even been seen outside McKale Center hanging out with students waiting in line hours before the doors open.
For a player with a huge fan base who shoots 50.6 percent from the field, Hollis-Jefferson isn’t a player I would want to make hungry, especially when he averages 28.4 minutes on the floor, second only to point guard McConnell.
He wants it to be sweet, he wants it to be elite and he wants it to be final. That’s why Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is Arizona’s X-factor.
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