Entering Saturday’s Round of 32 matchup between No. 2 Arizona and No. 10 Ohio State, most of the attention was focused on the two elite freshmen (Arizona’s Stanley Johnson and Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell) and the fact that Russell was expected to see a lot of one of the nation’s top defenders in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. But as the game played out one thing became clear: Arizona senior point guard T.J. McConnell was the best player on the floor in Portland.
While his name may not be tossed around as frequently by NBA scouts as the three players above, McConnell is an incredibly important piece for Sean Miller’s Wildcats. And in their 73-58 win over the Buckeyes, thus earning a third straight Sweet 16 appearance, the Pittsburgh native’s fingerprints were all over the game.
McConnell finished with 19 points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals, becoming the first Pac-12 player since Jason Kidd in 1993 to post a line of at least 15 points, five rebounds, five assists and five steals in an NCAA tournament game. He’s been the leader all season for Arizona, and when they struggled to crack Ohio State’s matchup zone in the first half McConnell accounted for eight points to help the Wildcats take a one-point lead into the half.
In the second half another Arizona guard, junior Gabe York, stepped forward and the Wildcats were able to pull away as a result. York scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half, shooting 4-for-7 from three (he made five for the game), and Ohio State’s inability to find him proved to be their downfall.
York was responsible for five of Arizona’s seven three-pointers, and that was a critical contribution considering the fact that the Wildcats shot a slightly higher percentage from three (36.8 percent) than from two (36.4 percent). The combination of York, McConnell, 20 points off of 12 Ohio State turnovers and a commanding performance on the boards proved to be too much for Thad Matta’s team to overcome.
And that doesn’t even take into consideration the rough evening Russell had shooting the basketball.
Arizona threw multiple players (mainly Hollis-Jefferson and McConnell) at Russell and he was unable to get anything going, finishing with nine points, seven rebounds and six assists while shooting 3-for-19 from the field. Seniors Sam Thompson (18 points) and Shannon Scott (ten) reached double figures, but with their best scorer kept in check Ohio State couldn’t keep up once Arizona managed to crack the zone.
Next up for Arizona is either No. 6 Xavier, Miller’s last employer before he took the Arizona job in 2009, or No. 14 Georgia State Thursday night in Los Angeles.