TJ McConnell stepped up and scored all 6 of Arizona’s overtime points as the Wildcats snatched a top 10 win from the hands of defeat in a 66-63 OT win over #9 Gonzaga. McConnell finished with 12 points and also had 3 steals in 31 minutes despite playing through foul trouble.
Arizona shot just 9-28 (32%) from the field in the first half, and at times struggled to establish a rhythm on offense. They trailed for all but 10 minutes of the game, finding themselves down 6 with just four minutes to play.
While the Wildcats played poorly for much of the game, Brandon Ashley lifted Arizona, especially down the stretch. The junior put the team on his back, scoring three consecutive baskets with under three minutes to play.
Those were the game’s final field goals of regulation, and a Kyle Wiltjer missed three sent the game to overtime.
Ashley was 6-11 from the field, including 2-2 from beyond the three point line for a team high 14 points. Those were his first made three pointers this season, a breakthrough reminiscent of last year’s Madison Square Garden victory against Duke in which Ashley converted multiple long distance shots despite not having made one on the season yet.
“I say this all the time,” McConnell said, “I think Brandon is unguardable.”
With new life in overtime, the Wildcats seized the moment behind McConnell’s tough play and some critical blunders by Gonzaga players. First freshman Domantas Sabonis committed a costly double dribble late in overtime. And then after getting a favorable foul call on a game-tying three point attempt, USC transfer Byron Wesely airballed the first free throw and bricked the next before purposefully missing the third.
The Wildcats had four players score in double figures, with Kaleb Tarczewski and Stanley Johnson both chipping in 11. Tarczewski led Arizona with 7 rebounds, while Johnson had 6.
Arizona played five players over 30 minutes in the overtime game, with McConnell, Ashley, Tarczewski, Johnson, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson all crossing the mark.
Hollis-Jefferson was instrumental in limiting Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos, who some call the best point guard in the country. Head coach Sean Miller lauded Hollis-Jefferson’s defensive ability to guard quick point guards at 6-7.
“Rondae guarded, Sabonis, Wiltjer, and switched, on screens,” Miller said. “He’s such a great defensive player, that when he leaves Arizona, he’ll be a great defensive player in that league too. He’s superior.”
Hollis-Jefferson finished with 8 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal. He also hit a three pointer in 37 minutes off the bench.
Both teams committed 13 turnovers, but Gonzaga outrebounded Arizona 39 to 31 and 14 to 7 on the offensive glass.
Though Arizona played sloppy basketball for extended periods, they showed grit down the stretch while Gonzaga ultimately wilted in the game’s biggest moments. Miller gave credit to Gonzaga though, saying the game could have gone either way.
“We played Gonzaga because they’re one of the great teams in college basketball,” he said. “What Mark Few’s done there, it represents everything we want to do here at Arizona.”