Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats share interesting Pac-10/12 player of year history with Oregon



T.J. McConnell runs the show and is valuable in many aspects for Arizona  (ESPN screen shot)

T.J. McConnell runs the show and is valuable in many aspects for Arizona (ESPN screen shot)

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Since the Pac-12 starting honoring players of the year in 1975-76 (when it was the Pac-8), 12 teams — including Arizona this season — have won the regular-season title by at least three games.

Of those 12 teams, seven featured the conference player of the year, symbolic of their respective team’s dominance in the league.

That leaves five champions with an impressive three-game cushion that did not feature the league’s player of the year. They include three Arizona teams (1990-91, 2002-03 and this year’s team) and two UCLA teams (1995-96 and 1996-97).

Of those three Arizona teams, the Wildcats’ top player was overlooked for the conference player of the year by an Oregon player each time:

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For the record the two dominant UCLA champions had standouts passed over by Cal players — freshman Shareef Abdur-Rahim in 1995-96 and Ed Gray in 1996-97.

A look at when an Arizona player was overlooked in its impressive title seasons:

Arizona (14-4) champs followed by UCLA (11-7)

Terrell Brandon won the player of the year honors in 1990-91 because of his impressive stats. He averaged 26.6 points per game, the third highest average in the conference’s history, trailing Lew Alcindor, who averaged 29 points for UCLA in 1966-67, and Mel Counts, who averaged 26.7 for Oregon State in 1963-64. Brandon also led the league in steals and ranked third in free-throw shooting, hitting 84.4 percent.


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Brian Williams was Arizona’s lone all-conference selection, believe it or not. The team’s leading scorer, Chris Mills, was snubbed.

USC had two players — Ronnie Coleman and Harold Miner — on the 10-player team despite a 10-8 record. Again, no Mills.

Arizona (17-1) champs followed by Stanford (14-4)

Jason Gardner and Luke Walton were selected to the All-Pac-10 team but Oregon’s Luke Ridnour took home the player of the year trophy.

The Ducks finished fifth, 10-8 in the conference standings, although they won the tournament title that year (which took place after the honors were announced).


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Lute Olson was quoted as saying by former Tucson Citizen sportswriter Steve Rivera that he was “disappointed” Gardner, a senior, did not earn the player of the year honor over Ridnour, a junior.

Olson believed his abundance of good players split the vote among league coaches. Walton, Salim Stoudamire and Channing Frye also entered the discussion.

Olson told Rivera that he would suggest to league officials that individual schools should designate a player to be voted on instead of coaches voting for a number of players from the same team.

That never materialized.

Arizona (16-2) champs followed by Oregon (13-5) and Utah (13-5)

T.J. McConnell was a top candidate along with Utah’s Delon Wright. Chasson Randle was in the discussion before Stanford’s collapse at the end. Joseph Young? A tremendous scoring threat, but his name was not among those most mentioned as a candidate.

What befell Gardner in 2003 might have done the same to McConnell this year with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson joining him on the All-Pac-12 team.

The most important player of the best team should trump everybody (especially when the vote is close). McConnell was as deserving of the player of the year honor as anybody who has won the honor for Arizona because of his impressive assist-to-turnover ratio (league-leading 3.14) and ability to be the glue for Arizona in pressure situations. 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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