Three observations of Arizona Wildcats vs UTEP Miners


T.J. McConnell was focused before the game (Fox Sports 1 screen shot)

T.J. McConnell was focused before the game (Fox Sports 1 screen shot)


1. Vince Hunter’s early foul-out was the story of the game.

Arizona was on upset alert before Hunter was assessed his fifth foul with 8:12 left in the game. The Wildcats led 45-41 at that point. They built the lead to 56-46 over the next five minutes.

Hunter, who had four fouls in the second half, had 18 points and 12 rebounds before exiting. His skill set with extreme athleticism around the basket was too much for Arizona’s interior players before Sean Miller utilized Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on him in the second half.

“If Vincent Hunter hadn’t fouled out, I don’t think we win,” Miller told Fox Sports 1 after the game.

The way Hunter was able to dominate in the paint for 32 minutes should serve as motivation for Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley to become more imposing defensively. Both were not influential in the game other than Ashley making two long-range jumpers early in the game and Tarczewski scoring five consecutive points to put Arizona ahead 45-41 before Hunter fouled out.

UTEP coach Tim Floyd gets the blame for keeping Hunter in the game after Hunter picked up his fourth foul with 9:28 remaining. If Floyd sat Hunter until about 4 minutes remained, the game could have had a different feel at the end.

2. T.J. McConnell impeccable again when Arizona needed it most.

McConnell answered the bell in this game as Arizona’s undeniable leader playing in that role for the first time in a hostile environment this season. The senior, who replaced Nick Johnson as the captain, had nine points, eight assists, seven rebounds and three steals.

McConnell’s steady play and efficient shooting (4 of 8) — mostly off aggressive penetration — set the tone throughout the game. His eight assists with only three turnovers in 35 minutes improved his season totals to 75 assists with only 23 turnovers.

Unfortunately for Arizona, the Wildcats finished with 17 turnovers with only 10 assists overall. That means aside from McConnell, Arizona had only two assists and 14 turnovers.

“T.J. was on the brink of a triple-double for us,” Miller told Brian Jeffries in the 1290-AM postgame coach’s show.

Miller was impressed by McConnell contributing three of Arizona’s 10 steals. Freshman forward Stanley Johnson, who showed the poise of a four-time high school state champion, led the Wildcats with 17 points and four steals.

“We steal the ball a lot,” Miller said. “I thought our offensive plays came from timely steals.”

McConnell was so calm and collected despite his surroundings that he almost had a 10-second halfcourt violation while bringing the ball upcourt after a missed field goal.

“He was at 9 seconds when he went over the line after a missed field goal,” Miller said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that.”

3. Free throws an ongoing problem for Arizona.

The Wildcats gave up 12 points on the line, making only 15 of 27 free-throw attempts.

“Unless our free throw shooting improves every game it’s going to feel like this,” Miller told Jeffries. “We have some guys really struggling from the line.”

Johnson (6 of 9), Ashley (1 of 4) and Hollis-Jefferson (4 of 7) each missed three free-throw attempts.

Miller made the comment that if Arizona converts to its potential, the Wildcats would have won with a comfortable margin.

Gabe York made all four of his free-throw attempts for Arizona and finished with a solid 13 points.

Arizona’s free throw struggles are affecting Miller’s confidence in his team at the line.

“I’m gonna stick with it for two more weeks that we’re a better free throw team than what we have shown,” Miller told Jeffries with a slight laugh. publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also has published articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

Share this post