Arizona tunes out ‘noise’ in what is a long season

T.J. McConnell reacts to a second-half play Saturday against Utah at McKale Center in Tucson.

TUCSON, Ariz. — Yes, Arizona hears the whispers and the cheers. It goes with the territory when you have all eyes on a program that found success for more than three decades.

Highs and lows happen, but it’s how it deals with them that’s important.

"We have this motto: ‘It’s all about the people in the gym and no one else outside matters,’" Arizona senior T.J. McConnell said on Monday during Arizona’s weekly press conference. "We pretty much stay in tune with that."

For now, coach Sean Miller said the team "will control what we can control," and that’s getting ready to head to the Bay area to face Stanford on Thursday and California on Saturday.

But, looking back it was a whirlwind of emotions — mostly for fans — in a span of six days where Arizona lost to Oregon State on the road and then beat Colorado and then-No. 8 Utah, there are extremes to be sure, with fans saying "what’s wrong with the team?" one day to "these guys are great" the next.

"We don’t pay attention to what anyone says," said McConnell, who admitted to hearing good and bad. "We dropped one we shouldn’t have to Oregon State, but credit to them. They made some big plays down the stretch. That happens sometimes."

But it was the response and the energy Arizona showed against Utah that had everyone buzzing in as much as it played its best game of the season. McConnell led Arizona in the first half with 12 points; freshman Stanley Johnson had 18 in the second half.

"People are going to be talking about you when you are at your worst and will be talking about you when you are at your best," McConnell said. "You just have to stay even keel."

Miller said it’s best to not pay attention to the outside chatter because "nothing is ever that great and nothing is ever that bad. Those that jump that quickly to criticize or praise don’t understand how hard this is."

Landmines in a 30-plus game schedule are everywhere. Zones here, pressure defense there, streaky-hot shooters here and there. In Arizona’s two losses, they’ve seen all of it. Still, it is 16-2 and 4-1 in the Pac-12 Conference.

Now, Miller said, it’s about improvement and how much better can the team get.

"It’s about not getting distracted by what people are saying about us – good or bad," Miller said. "It’s about being who we are. And that’s being the best team we can possibly be."

Johnson on Monday was named the Pac-12’s player of the week. It’s the second time he’s received the honor.

Johnson averaged 20 points, 8.5 rebounds and two steals in Arizona’s two victories last week.  He shot 48.1 percent (13 of 27) from the floor and 81.3 percent (13-of-16) from the free throw line. He had a career-high 22 points vs. Colorado and 18 points and nine rebounds vs. Utah.

Johnson is Arizona’s leading scorer and rebounder with averages of 14.6 points and 6.8 rebounds.

Follow Steve Rivera on Twitter