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Passing grade: Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell shines in exhibition win

With a point guard like T.J. McConnell, Sean Miller should be smiling. Photo by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With a point guard like T.J. McConnell, Sean Miller should be smiling. Photo by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I didn’t go to Arizona’s exhibition game against Augustana but monitored the action on TV, flipping over from the World Series.

Flip: T.J. McConnell is pressuring the ball-handler across mid-court, making a steal and going in for two points.

Flip: McConnell is taking a charge.

Flip: McConnell is making a 3-pointer.

Flip: McConnell is throwing an alley-oop pass to Nick Johnson.

Flip: McConnell is draining at 18-footer from straightaway.

I gather from the final stats that this was basically how it went all game, McConnell dominating the action one way or another in the Wildcats’ 84-52 victory at McKale Center on Monday night.

The junior point guard transfer from Duquesne scored 12 points on 5 of 6 shooting (cleverly leaving some room for improvement), handed out eight assists, made three steals, grabbed three rebounds and committed not a single, solitary turnover in 23 minutes.

Or as Sean Miller calls it, Monday.

It was just more of the same that Miller has seen from McConnell from behind the closed practice doors of the Richard Jefferson Gymnasium. Miller says in his previous nine seasons as a head coach, he’s never had a point guard who is testing off the charts like McConnell is right now.

“I don’t think that I’ve had a point guard dominate the practice stats like T.J. has through the first 22 or 23 practices we’ve had,” Miller said in his postgame press conference. “He’s doing it every day.”

For sure, not too much should be made from an exhibition victory, but it’s fun to think that McConnell, indeed, will be as advertised: A true point guard with serious defensive chops.

“On offense, you can see he makes his teammates better,” Miller said. “Defensively, he can really pressure the ball and steal it.”

That last part could be/should be Arizona’s identity this season. Pressure the ball and steal it … and then start the engines.

Those who run likely will be rewarded with an easy basket off a pass from McConnell or Johnson.

“You have two guys that I think can really make good decisions, so the more we can get out in transition the better,” Miller said. “How do you get out in transition? Become a great defensive team.”

Arizona held Augustana to 30.2 percent shooting, including 20.7 percent (6 of 29) in the second half.

The numbers don’t count now, but they will Nov. 8, when the Wildcats open the season at home against Cal Poly.

“It’s been a while, but it felt great to be back on the court,” McConnell said. “I’ve been anxious for the last year and a half, but it feels good to be back playing.”

Related: Arizona lands versatile JC guard Kadeem Allen

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