Arizona’s McConnell scores as a leader even if shots aren’t falling

TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona senior guard T.J. McConnell admits he is — he hopes "was" is a more apt description — in a shooting slump through 25 percent of the basketball season.

He does think about it and, yes, it does bother him at times.

But, he fully expects to snap out of it.

Until then, he’ll do what he does best: Lead, assist, defend, dive, and, well, win.

He will get another chance on Friday when Arizona (11-0) travels to El Paso to face UTEP (6-3) in a game that can be seen on Fox Sports 1 (9 p.m., MT). It’s Arizona’s first true road game of the season after playing in Maui last month.

"I think I’m leading the team well and doing what I need to do defensively, but as everyone knows I’m struggling shooting the ball," McConnell said this week. "Everybody goes through shooting slumps, and it’s just about shooting your way out of it. I’m going to be fine. I’m not really worried about it."

The improvement might come in small doses. In Arizona’s 101-64 win vs. Oakland on Tuesday, he went 2 for 3 from the floor, moving his percentage from 37 percent to 38.1 percent.

Against Oakland, he had 10 assists (one shy of tying a career-high), one block and three steals.

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As always, he impacts a game in many ways.

"T.J. is one who doesn’t have to score a lot of points to affect the game," said teammate Brandon Ashley. "He’s one of those guys who can get steals and help us out on defense. He’s a floor general, and he gets everyone else in the game."

Arizona coach Sean Miller describes McConnell as the team’s "heart and soul," especially on the defensive end and not just when he’s defending his man.

"It’s the hustle plays and being at the right place at the right time," Miller said. "He’s one of the many tone setters on our team where guys follow his lead and his intensity."

McConnell’s assist-to-turnover ratio is a more-than-impressive  3.35 to 1. As for the shooting, Miller said there’s a lot of basketball left to be played.

"We’re all hoping he can hit his stride," Miller said.

Taking good shots and not worrying about misses are keys to moving on. The percentages will eventually work themselves out if you are a good shooter. And Miller continues to say McConnell is just that.

Miller said he’d be very surprised if McConnell isn’t shooting near 40 percent from 3-point distance by season’s end. He’s at 28 percent now.

"That’s the last piece to him," Miller said, of McConnell’s game. "When that shows up that enhances what we already do and that makes him an even better and more valuable player."

Until then, there are those other pieces. The leading continues to be the important part. Earlier in the season, Miller called out McConnell, Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski, saying they needed to step up in replacing Nick Johnson in that role.

"I’m extremely comfortable" in that role, McConnell said. "We have Brandon, Kaleb and myself, and I think we are all capable of doing what leaders do."

"A lead-by-example guy," McConnell said, describing himself. "Do whatever it takes for the team to win. If people label me as a leader that’s great, but I’m doing whatever it takes to win."

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