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Three Key Takeaways.
- TJ McConnell Has Great Poise and Intangibles. And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That’s code language for “white point guard” in college basketball. And even if it’s completely 100 percent true, the bigger truth is that McConnell also has a spectacularly well-developed skill set. When Arizona couldn’t figure out the Ohio State zone at all in the first half, it was McConnell’s repeated breaking down of the defense that kept the Wildcats from digging themselves a substantial early hole. When the Arizona frontcourt was shooting itself into obliviion, it was his four steals that led to the majority of Arizona’s 10 first-half points off of turnovers — the only offense that was really working for the ‘Cats at the time. McConnell ended the game with 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting, six rebounds, six assists and five steals in an all-around performance befitting a senior leader.
- Battle of the Freshmen. Yeah, so about that. What was billed as a chance for star freshmen D’Angelo Russell and Stanley Johnson to do battle in a heated Round of 32 game didn’t really work out as planned. Russell never looked comfortable as he had trouble shaking the length of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and the relentlessness of TJ McConnell on his way to a rough 3-of-19 (1-of-7 from three) shooting performance. Johnson wasn’t any better in shooting the ball, throwing up a horrific 1-of-12 shooting night of his own. Both players contributed in other ways, however, which proves that they’re more than one-dimensional scorers — Russell grabbed seven boards and dropped six dimes (a few of which were drop dead gorgeous) while Johnson collected 10 rebounds and a couple of steals. Luckily for Arizona
- The Upside of Arizona. Nothing changed opinions about the potential upside of Arizona after seeing them win twice here in Portland this weekend. Texas Southern was an obvious mismatch, but Ohio State’s athleticism and length created an interesting Round of 32 matchup for a team that can sometimes struggle to put the ball in the basket. The Arizona frontcourt ended up shooting a terrible 9-of-37 from the field, but the backcourt of McConnell and York ensured that the Wildcats were able to pull away in the second half. One reason Miller’s bigs were able to take (and miss) so many shots is because they were also relentless on the offensive glass, grabbing 18 rebounds on that end (vs. Ohio State’s entirety of 26) and giving themselves multiple extra chances to convert. This was especially true in the second half as the Buckeyes’ frontcourt players clearly got gassed with the continuous pressure. Arizona didn’t play great today, but it still looked Final Four good. We’ll see whether Los Angeles has any trouble in store for the Wildcats.
Player of the Game: Gabe York. York’s instant offense off the Arizona bench ensured that Arizona was going to win today’s game. Arizona’s legion of forwards could not figure out the Ohio State zone until York entered the game in the first half and hit a three. He added four more bombs during a seven-minute stretch in the second half when Arizona built its lead from two to 13 points, essentially never looking back from there. He finished the game with 19 points and a career-high five threes. Arizona fans will love this assessment — McConnell was definitely the more valuable player today, but York was the bigger star.