Last year, the college basketball scene could best be described as chaotic. In the month of January, five different teams climbed to No. 1 in the polls only to be knocked off their perch the following week.
However, the new year has seen one team who has remained at the top and continues to impress with each passing game—the Arizona Wildcats.
Arizona was faced with a tough task on Thursday, facing the UCLA Bruins at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA had Arizona’s number last season, coming out victorious in all three matchups.
But this season brings a Wildcats team that stresses an unselfish style of play that involves everyone on the court. And it helps that they have an established point guard to lead the effort.
T.J. McConnell, a junior transfer from Duquesne, is the unquestioned leader on the court who directs the offense. On Thursday, McConnell dished out seven assists as the Wildcats held off a late run by the Bruins to win, 79-75.
Arizona coach Sean Miller, who knows a thing or two about directing the floor during his days as a point guard for Pittsburgh from 1988-1992, sees in Miller a young player who is totally unconcerned about personal stats and just wants to do whatever it takes to help his team win.
"Our point guard is unselfish and when you have an unselfish point guard it sometimes can become contagious," Miller said. "The other thing is our newcomers that are young and talented are great people. Great teammates are about winning. We don't deal with the egos or sometimes the selfishness that teams or great individual players can bring to the table."
It’s an attitude that has clearly rubbed off on the entire team. Junior shooting guard Nick Johnson would likely be a star on every other team in Division 1, but for the Wildcats he’s content in just being a part of a team effort, and giving credit to McConnell.
"It starts with our point guard, that's very clear," Johnson said. "He had seven assists tonight. It starts with him and that's contagious. When we have an open man we try to hit him or get one more for our shooter. We're also forcing the ball down low and using our size, but it definitely starts with our point guard."
Johnson poured in a game-high 22 points against UCLA and is now averaging 16.4 points with a 49.1 percent field goal percentage.
Miller believes that Johnson should be in the conversation as one of the better players in the country despite sacrificing offense for the good of the team.
"Yes, he should," Miller said. "If you just look at statistics and how he defends and keep in mind he plays three positions. He plays the backup 1, starts at the 2 and many times when Gabe [York] and T.J. are in there with him he plays at the 3. The value that he brings to our team is really amazing."
Arizona is just now getting into the meat of their schedule within the competitive PAC-12 Conference. While they’re currently on a roll, they also understand how difficult it will be to maintain their consistent play night in and night out.
But sophomore guard York, who contributed 12 points in 18 minutes against UCLA, believes that as long as his teammates keep their ultimate goal in mind, they can continue with their solid play.
"The way our team is and how close we are off the court, it shows on the court," York said. "We're unselfish and we like to get things done. We all have a common goal and our common goal is to win the national championship. We all know what our goal is."
That’s the mark of a great team, one who understands it takes a team effort. And the Arizona Wildcats could well be that team this season.