Arizona guard T.J. McConnell went off against Oregon on Thursday, scoring a game-high 21 points in an 80-62 win in Eugene.
“I always say it’s a team game,” McConnell said on Ferrall on the Bench. “And I got to thank my teammates for getting me open, and they gave me the opportunity to get open shots tonight.”
The No. 7 Wildcats led just 39-34 at halftime before running away with the game in the second half. Arizona shot 27-of-56 from the field (48.2 percent), as all five Arizona starters reached double figures, including Stanley Johnson (14 points), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (13), Kaleb Tarczewski (11) and Brandon Ashley (10).
While all five starters have been crucial to Arizona’s success this year, McConnell’s road to Tucson was a little more winding than most. A Pittsburgh native, McConnell actually began his career at Duquesne before transferring to Arizona in 2012.
McConnell has started for Arizona ever since.
“I never forget where I came from,” McConnell said. “Pittsburgh’s my home forever. I don’t think I was too big for Duquesne. I was just trying to better myself, and I thank them for the opportunity. But obviously I went to Arizona. We’ve played well for the last two years, and that’s just a tribute to how great of a coach Coach (Sean) Miller is and how good of teammates I have. We’ve been playing well and we played a great game tonight and stuck it out.”
Arizona (14-1) started the season 12-0 – a run that included wins over then-No. 15 San Diego State and then-No. 9 Gonzaga – before losing, 71-67, at UNLV on Dec. 23. The Wildcats have since won back-to-back games – by a combined 42 points.
It appears they’ve righted the ship.
“Absolutely,” McConnell said. “Losing to UNLV right before Christmas, going home to see our families, it obviously hurt. No one wants to lose a game, especially going home before Christmas, but we had a great week of practice. Coach Miller stayed on us and said, ‘The way we lost, that’s never gong to happen again.’ We kind of bought into that. We played well against Arizona State at home in front of our great fans, and we played well on the road tonight because everyone who plays in the Pac-12 knows how hard it is to get a win on the road, especially against Oregon.”
Arizona owned Oregon on the glass, out-rebounding the Ducks 40-27 and limiting them to 20-of-56 shooting from the floor (35.7 percent), including 4-of-20 from three-point range (20 percent).
“I think we kind of showed tonight what kind of offensive rebounding team we are, and obviously our (defense was) pretty good as well,” McConnell said.
Arizona, which has been a fixture of the top 10 for the last two years, is built for a championship. Is that the goal this season?
“Obviously that’s every team’s dream, but we set goals here before the season,” McConnell said. “We want to win the Pac-12 outright, then go to Vegas and win the Pac-12 Tournament and obviously get a good seed (for the NCAA Tournament) and go to Indianapolis for a Final Four. No one wants to go to a Final Four more than me, and I know no one wants to go to a Final Four more than Coach Miller. He’s hungry for one, and we’re doing everything we can to get him there.”