The X Factor
T.J. McConnell isn’t about to let Xavier Thames catch him by surprise.
Then again these days, the former Washington State point guard isn’t catching anyone by surprise.
Thames is averaging 26.5 points per game in the NCAA tournament and coming off a 30-point game against North Dakota State in the third round.
In the first game against UA on Nov. 14, Thames had 19 points, but on 5-of-16 shooting.
“He’s on quite a roll right now,” McConnell said. “I think he’s top-two in scoring in the NCAA tournament thus far; but he just does so many things for that team. He shoots the ball so well, gets them in the offense; he’s just a great point guard.”
Thames’ game is dissimilar to McConnell’s, but the Arizona point guard said he won’t change his game to compensate for what will likely be a big scoring discrepancy.
“You have to just play your game,” McConnell said. “You know not every point guard is going to play like you, and you can’t change your game to that. I have to play like I’ve played all year, and run this team and defend.”
Learning from the best
Sean Miller has apparently shared a thing or two about his own NCAA tournament experience with his Wildcats. Miller, who played for Pittsburgh from 1987 to 1992, went to three NCAA tournaments and an NIT with the Panthers.
Miller, who averaged 10 points in his college career, had little postseason success, however, never advancing past the second round.
“Coach is just relaxing because he’s done all the things that we want to do,” Nick Johnson said. “He’s been in this position and been on a top team playing point guard. When he says stuff, it sinks in because you know he’s been in that situation before.”
Miller can relate
Miller didn’t always benefit from the luxuries of being a coach at a major program. His time at Xavier gave him an interesting perspective on how the other half lives, and that made him empathetic toward SDSU coach Steve Fisher.
“I’ve been in their shoes as the head coach at Xavier,” Miller said. “You have a lot of guys on your team that have been overlooked, or they’re in their next stop having transferred. A lot of times they have a healthy chip on their shoulder.”
San Diego State may have been the loosest bunch in Anaheim, as players were jovial and funny with the media, one of whom came from SDSU itself.
Junior Aqeel Quinn, who transferred from Cal State-Northridge, had a camera and took to interviewing his teammates, and even took the time to interview Fisher.
“I got this guy named Aqeel Quinn who parachuted in from nowhere, and I don’t know how it happened, but it’s been the best thing that’s happened to this team this year,” Fisher said, drawing a laugh.
Like Arizona, San Diego State is no stranger to Honda Center.
Both teams advanced to the Sweet 16 in Anaheim in 2011 — Arizona defeated Duke, and San Diego State lost to Connecticut — but the Aztecs have played in the arena twice since then, with big results. SDSU beat UCLA in the Wooden Classic at Honda Center in December 2012, and this season the Aztecs defeated then-
No. 25 Marquette in the championship game of the Wooden Legacy tournament on Dec. 1.
“We all feel comfortable here,” said Quinn, who played in the big building twice for Leuzinger High School of Hawthorne, Calif., in the state championships. “When we first walked into the gym in Spokane it was kind of different, but when we came here, we were good. It kind of does play a part, but when the ball is tipped, it doesn’t matter.”
Honda Center has been home to an NHL championship, countless college basketball games and it even hosted a college hockey Frozen Four.
But what of its beginnings?
Turns out the first event at the arena was a sold-out Barry Manilow concert. No word if Gabe York was in attendance.