T.J. McConnell didn’t win the Pac-12 Player of the Week award today, but Sean Miller left no doubt today of how he felt about the production of the Arizona Wildcats point guard during games at Utah and Colorado.
McConnell averaged 10 points, eight assists, 3.5 steals and zero turnovers.
“You can’t put a value on that of how well he runs our team and how much easier the game is because he’s out there playing that way, not to mention his steals,” Miller said today, during his weekly news conference. “You think about the steals he had, the assists he had, and there wasn’t a point guard last week who played better than he played for us.”
All that came after McConnell had two assists and six turnovers in UA’s Feb. 14 loss at ASU, a game Miller described as a one-off.
“Really, from the onset T.J. has taken care of the ball,” Miller said. “It’s like a college quarterback. As much as you trust him, as responsible as he is, as well as he sees the field, there’s always those games where he makes a bad decision or the defense plays great and because of that has a few uncharacteristic turnovers.
“I would say the same about T.J. His six turnovers in the Arizona State game were one of many things we didn’t do well in that game and that’s why we lost.”
Maybe nobody else saw it coming – that 27-point blowout win at Colorado – but Miller said he did.
“We’ve really practiced well recently,” Miller said. “Everybody on our team, as late as it is in the season, sometimes you almost want to fast forward from one game to the next and in between isn’t as important. But the teams that grow and continue to get better … We’ve been that team from the start all way through. We’ve had very few blips on the screen when it comes to effort, attitude, chemistry.
“Even on our road trip, we practiced hard we didn’t take any days off in between and everyone was ready to go. When you do that, it gives you a chance to give a good performance. That’s one thing we talked about, trying to have our season’s best performance through working hard every day.”
Reflecting on Aaron Gordon’s strong game Saturday after struggling at Utah, Miller said:
“If you watched Aaron around the basket in the second half, he was the beneficiary of some really unselfish play. He got out in transition, he ran the floor, but his teammates found him. He had three dunks the second half. He really let the game come to him. The few times he created on his own, he did it at the right time from the right spot on the floor. You could see his confidence growing as the game moved on.”
While all the metrics point to UA being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament as of now, giving the Wildcats a potentially much weaker opponent for their opener, Miller indicated the Wildcats are trying to shut those kinds of thoughts out for now.
“I can’t speak on experience for that because I’ve never had that seed in the NCAA tournament,” Miller said. “But I think the biggest thing for us as a team is that there is so much hysteria surrounding March and rightfully so -- it’s an exciting time. You have your conference regular season race coming to a close, you have the conference tournament, teams that are fighting to be a part of the NCAA tournament, and teams that are fighting for higher seeds.
“Everybody seems to have an opinion and it can be very distracting for a group of players or team. Our way of getting there has to be that we stay with the task at hand and that is like we’ve done from the onset, but it’s easier to do it in November because a lot of the talk at that point is about football.
“Now here we are at the peak. For us, tomorrow will set the tone for how we play on Wednesday, and I think we’re trying the best we can to stay all in and really work on the things we need to work on, and have that focus. The minute you seem to worry about the things that maybe aren’t here yet, take your eyes off what’s the most important, all of a sudden you don’t play well. And in our case, especially this week, if we don’t play well against Cal or Stanford we’re not gonna win because they’re both very good teams.”
Gabe York and Nick Johnson were the two players UA chose to be interviewed today and when York was asked about his 10 rebounds at Colorado, Johnson shot him a non-verbal warning.
“My teammates blocked all their guys out and the ball sort of just fell in my hands a couple of times,” York said.
Johnson smiled approvingly.
“He stole a few of mine,” Johnson said. “ That’s why I looked at him.”