Oregon’s defensive strategy sparks 21-point night for Arizona point guard

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Prior to No. 7 Arizona’s 80-65 win at Oregon on Thursday, senior point guard T.J. McConnell managed to score in double figures in just four of the Wildcats’ 14 games. Given the options surrounding McConnell and his role, it’s understandable that he would prefer to focus on setting up his teammates on the offensive end of the floor. The issue: opponents sensed this as well.

With that being the case some teams, with Oregon being the most recent, have taken to sagging off of McConnell with him at times being reluctant to shoot. That changed against the Ducks, as McConnell made nine of his 14 field goal attempts and scored 21 points while also grabbing five rebounds and dishing out three assists.

The 21 points represent the most McConnell’s scored in an Arizona uniform (his overall career-high of 28 was achieved at Duquesne). According to Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star, McConnell made note of the fact that Oregon didn’t help off of their men in an effort to limit his passing options, and McConnell took advantage by scoring himself.

“I knew when the Pac-12 started, they were going to force me to score,” McConnell said. “When I was driving tonight, every other team was packing it in, (but Oregon) kind of stayed on their man. It kind of freed up the shot for me, and I just knocked them down tonight.”

McConnell isn’t going to be asked to take over as a primary scoring option for this group, especially with the likes of Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson all averaging double figures and two other Wildcats (Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York) hovering around the 9.0 ppg mark. But he has to keep teams honest, and if McConnell can continue to make teams pay for allowing him quality looks the entire team will benefit.

McConnell wasn’t the only Wildcat to benefit from an aggressive approach offensively, as Arizona attempted 30 free throws on the night (making 24). In the second half the Wildcats shot 20-for-26 from the charity stripe, with many of those opportunities coming as a result of their resolve to drive the ball to the basket.