Arizona Basketball

Three top observations of Arizona Wildcats’ 69-51 win over No. 8 Utah



T.J. McConnell's focused, energized play after the first five minutes ignited Arizona (Pac-12 Networks video screen shot)

T.J. McConnell’s focused, energized play after the first five minutes ignited Arizona (Pac-12 Networks video screen shot)

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No. 1: T.J. McConnell must play this energized all of the time.

The inside-outside trio of T.J. McConnell, Stanley Johnson and Brandon Ashley was about as dominating as it gets for Arizona.

They combined to make 20 of 31 field-goal attempts with 48 points, 20 rebounds, seven assists and three steals. Utah as a team combined to make only 16 of 41 from the field with 51 points, 19 rebounds, 13 assists and four steals.

McConnell’s playmaking ability was the most telling because it ignited the Wildcats after they fell behind 10-2 in the first six minutes of the game.

McConnell scored 10 of Arizona’s next 22 points to tie the game at 24 with 5:27 left in the first half. The Wildcats closed out the half making three consecutive shots, including the last one by McConnell with 18 seconds left to put Arizona ahead 31-26 going into halftime.

McConnell’s relentless energy was contagious for Arizona, which drew a rave review in a Pac-12 Networks halftime interview from Sean Miller. The Arizona coach is usually pensive and often critical of his team, always thinking of what the Wildcats can do better.

Remember the CBS Sports interview at halftime of the UNLV game when he said “we stink”?


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In today’s game before leaving to the locker room at halftime, Miller said, “I’m excited about our effort. That’s all I care about.”

McConnell exuded that kind of energy and it was reflective of what Miller preached to his team after the Oregon State loss last week.

“We are expected to win every game,” Miller told Brian Jeffries of KCUB (1290-AM) after the game. “That’s where the bar is here but it can’t be life or death. The guys have been the hunted for two years now and with that it can be a burden.

“It’s not only about the win and the result. … In the last couple of days, we dialed it back and did the best we can. If we get beat, we’ll do that playing hard, together and our best.”

No. 2: Stanley Johnson beast-mode after slow start.

Arizona knows all to well what it’s like with Johnson in foul trouble. Just six days ago, Johnson tried only one field goal in the first half at Oregon State after drawing two quick fouls. The same scenario occurred today — one field goal attempt, no points, no rebounds and two fouls in 10 minutes.

Johnson showed why he is a John Wooden Award finalist with 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting with nine rebounds and two steals in 18 minutes.

“Stanley was sensational,” Miller told Jeffries. “He dominated the game.”

After Utah cut the lead to 35-32 with 17:57 left in the game, Johnson went on a personal 9-0 run to blow the game open to a 44-32 lead with 14:40 left.

When Utah made the game interesting, cutting the lead to 57-47 with 7:10 left in the game, Johnson responded with Arizona’s next two shots to subdue the Utes once again.

“There’s not many guys who can do that to Utah,” Miller said in the postgame press conference.

Remember UNLV’s Christian Wood and Rashad Vaughn and what they did to Arizona? They combined for 24 points with 20 rebounds in the Rebels’ 59-46 loss to Utah on Dec. 21, but they were a combined 10 of 26 from the field against the Utes. They went 19 of 38 against Arizona, which had no answer for them.

No. 3: Arizona controlled paint against Utah team with size.

Ashley spearheaded the Wildcats’ dominance in the paint against Utah, which has the size and depth to match up with most teams in the nation.

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who is 0-8 against Arizona and Miller, has a lineup that includes two 7-footers Jakob Poeltl and Dallin Bachynski and 6’9″ forwards Brekkott Chapman and Kyle Kuzma.

The Utes’ beef in the middle prompted visions of that elderly lady in the old Wendy’s commercials. You know the line (where’s the beef?). Arizona outrebounded Utah 40-19 after the Utes were only out-rebounded once before this season. The Utes ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 and 13th nationally with a plus-8.7 margin in rebounding before today’s game.

Ashley had eight rebounds to go along with Johnson’s nine and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s seven.

“The rebounding says a lot,” Miller told Jeffries. “Utah is very good in its own right, getting second shots and preventing the other team from getting second shots. That shows how active we are and how hard we played … We were ready.

“Brandon has refocused himself. He played his best back-to-back games of the season (after his career-high-tying 11 rebounds against Colorado on Thursday). He played like an all-conference player.”

In the wins over Colorado and Utah, Arizona had a 38-8 offensive rebounding edge and outscored those teams 64-28 in the paint.


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Arizona improved to 11-3 in such games
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[/ezcol_1half_end] publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He has also written articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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