McConnell Foils San Diego State Upset Bid, Sends Arizona to Elite Eight
Xavier Thames left no doubt why he was the best Value Add player on the court, torching Arizona's great defense for 25 points. Unfortunately for the Aztecs, Arizona had the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th best Value Add players on the court, and that was enough to rally to a 70-64 win for the Wildcats. Two years ago Value Add projections indicated the transfer of TJ McConnell to Arizona would make them a Final Four team this year - and it was his sliding steal in the final five minutes that turned a game that had been dominated by the Aztecs.
The Aztecs controlled most of the game because Thames drove and threw the ball to the hoop to take away the Wildcats height advantage by fouling out big man Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and making Kaleb Tarczewski play most of the second half with four fouls.
Thames scored and drew a foul on Hollis-Jefferson with 7:31 to play in the and hit the free throw to give the Aztecs a 23-22 lead they would keep for more than 20 minutes.
It was with 7:21 left in the game that McConnell drove and went to his left hand to finally put Arizona back on top 50-49.
Thames threaded a pass inside to set up Hollis-Jefferson's fifth foul, seemingly giving the Aztec's an edge down the stretch.
However, the true turning point game with three minutes left in the game. Thames tried to screen McConnell to free up Winston Shepard for a potential go-ahead offensive trip. However, McConnell bodied up both players, and then slipped around Shepard to poke the ball away from Shepard. McConnell flew around and slid on the court for the steal with 2:51 to play. At that point most college players simply call timeout, but McConnell saw Nick Johnson streaking and hit him for a pass that set up a basket to make it 54-51 Arizona.
The steal and assist from his back for McConnell was huge beyond the basket, because Johnson had failed to score for more than 35 minutes but from that moment on was the clutch player to let Arizona leave with a win and Elite 8 date against Wisconsin Saturday.