McConnell, Arizona kiss regular season goodbye in style

Arizona guard T.J. McConnell waves to the McKale Center crowd as he walks off of the court for the last time Saturday in the Wildcats 91-69 win over Stanford.

Casey Sapio

TUCSON, Ariz. — It was as perfect as perfect could get in McKale Center on Saturday afternoon for fifth-ranked Arizona. From the first play to the final buzzer and beyond, Arizona celebrated with yet another strong performance from most everyone.

When senior guard T.J. McConnell found senior Matt Korcheck "butt naked under the basket," as McConnell put it — on senior day, of course — just 19 seconds into the game, it was as though Hollywood producers called the play and were ready to roll. Arizona sure was, in what turned out to be a 91-69 victory over Stanford in what felt like a party.

"It was a great pass and it was great to see Matt catch it and score," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "You almost said to yourself, ‘This is going to be our day,’ right after that first play.’"

It was at the very least a day and game to remember for the seniors.

"You would want something like that to happen if you were a senior giving it to another senior," McConnell said. "It just worked out that way and it was awesome."

"Awesome" was perhaps the word of the day for Arizona as it disposed of its eighth consecutive opponent and 14 of 15, with all but two by double digits.

Saturday was just another of the laughers, though Miller said the score wasn’t an indication of how tough the game was. Still, there was little drama for Arizona on the court as it won its nation’s-best 38th consecutive home game and won the Pac-12 Conference by three games as it finished 16-2, the best conference record since UCLA went 16-2 in 2007-08. Arizona now has 14 Pac-12 titles.

"It never does (get old)," said Miller, who has three titles in his six years at Arizona. "Hopefully in our future we will have many more to come."

The Wildcats go into next week’s Pac-12 tournament 28-3 and a heavy favorite to win it all there. They haven’t won the tournament since 2002.

But first came Saturday’s coronation: it started with the Korcheck basket, featured a Gabe York 3-pointer to end the half, saw the players go into the Arizona student section to celebrate after the final buzzer, and was capped with the cutting of the net to officially commemorate the conference title.

No. 5 Arizona 91, Stanford 69

The best moment may have been when McConnell left the game with 2:46 remaining and Arizona up 89-65.  McConnell bent down and gave the big ‘A’ at center court a kiss.

"I’ve been thinking about it," said McConnell, who wore the game net around his neck during the postgame interview and didn’t plan to give it back. "I’ve seen people do that on their senior days in college. I respect this place so much and love this place so much that I needed to do something like that."

He left to a standing ovation, having never lost a game on McKale Center.

"It’s been a great experience playing with my teammates and playing in front of the fans," McConnell said. "I love this place and I truly don’t want to leave. This will always be my home. I’ll come back as much as I can."

Korcheck, who attend high school in Tucson and dreamed of these moments growing up although never feeling he’d get the opportunity, said his time in McKale and on the team "has been an  amazing experience … and unbelievable to be a part of it."

Five Arizona players scored in double figures with junior Brandon Ashley leading the way with 15 points. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 14 points. Gabe York and Kaleb Tarczewski each added 13 points and McConnell had 10 points to go with career-high-tying 11 assists. He’s now had 22 assists with two turnovers in two games.

Stanford, a team that likely blew every chance of making it to the NCAA tournament, couldn’t keep up, although the game got physical and "chippy" from time to time. Stanford did get as close as 59-47 with 13:08 left in the game. Arizona’s lead eventually ballooned to 25 (89-64) with 3:03 left.

"They’re a very good basketball team, they’re going to go on runs," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said.

McConnell orchestrated many of them in the second half, scoring all 10 of his points and adding seven assists after halftime.

At the end of the game when his name was finally called to receive his senior day trinkets, he finally shed a tear, which he knew would happen.

"When I got to coach Miller tears started to build up," he said. "Then I went down the coaching staff (for hugs) I couldn’t control myself. I’m going to miss playing here and for coach Miller."

But there is still plenty of work to be done with Arizona headed to Las Vegas to play on Thursday and then the all-important NCAA tournament.

"We can’t overlook our opponents in Vegas and look to the NCAA tournament because that’s when you get beat," McConnell said.

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