TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — T.J. McConnell jumped into passing lanes for steals and reached in to strip unsuspecting players of the ball.
When he wasn’t doing that, Arizona’s gritty point guard was deflecting passes, hounding every dribble and, of course, diving on the floor for loose balls any chance he had.
With a leader like that, it’s no wonder the Wildcats turned their rematch with Oregon State into a rout.
Sparked by McConnell’s career-high steals, No. 6 Arizona ran its smothering defense to near perfection in a 57-34 win over Oregon State on Friday night.
“You can make the argument that no player we’ve recruited in our seven or eight recruiting classes has had more of an impact on winning games than T.J.,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “And he does it an all facets.”
Arizona (20-2, 8-1) has been in good defensive groove since losing to Oregon State earlier this month and held Oregon, the Pac-12’s top-scoring team, to 56 points on Wednesday.
The Wildcats were even better against the methodical Beavers.
Arizona played its usual aggressive man-to-man and was better with help defense after struggling against the Beavers in the earlier meeting.
McConnell was the catalyst, helping the Wildcats force Oregon State in 17 turnovers — 12 of those on steals.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley helped protect the rim, and the Wildcats got out to the Beavers’ shooters, holding them to 28 percent from the floor. Arizona also shut down Beavers leading scorer Gary Payton II, holding him to six points on 3-of-13 shooting.
Ashley finished with 12 points and Hollis-Jefferson had 11 for the Wildcats, who have won 34 straight home games.
“Our defense was great tonight,” said McConnell, who also had seven points and six assists.
Oregon State (14-7, 5-4) handed Arizona its only conference loss earlier this month by attacking Arizona’s defense. The Beavers were the ones on their heels in the rematch, unable to get anything to fall inside or out against the Wildcats’ pressure.
Oregon State went 3 for 15 from 3-point range and Payton, who averages 13.2 points, never seemed comfortable against Arizona’s attacking defense.
Olaf Schaftenaar led the Beavers with eight points.
“They had a lot of possessions and they got a lot of deflections,” Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle said. “I think that caused a lot of frustration for some of our guys.”
The Beavers pulled off the upset of the Pac-12 season so far, knocking off Arizona 58-56 on Jan. 11 for their first win over a top-10 team in 15 years.
Oregon State gave the Wildcats fits with its zone in that game, holding Arizona to 37 percent shooting, including 4 for 17 from 3-point range, and a season-low in points.
But that game was in Corvallis. This one was at McKale Center, one of the toughest road venues in college basketball.
The Wildcats also were coming off one of their best games of the season, a 90-56 rout over Oregon, and Oregon State just had one of its worst, a 73-55 loss at Arizona State.
The patient Beavers managed to keep the game at their pace in the first half, working the shot clock down to keep it close.
The Wildcats shifted the tide late in the half behind their defense, holding Oregon State scoreless over the final 7:45.
The Beavers hit 6 of 20 shots in the first half, including 1 for 8 from 3-point range. The Beavers also had 11 turnovers, five of those on steals by McConnell.
Arizona scored the final 11 points of the half to lead 24-13.
The second half was even more defensively dominated.
Arizona missed its first nine shots, while Oregon State opened 1 of 8.
Pitts gave the Wildcats a quick lift, scoring on a three-point play and 3-pointer in transition, and Arizona stretched the lead to 34-21.
The Beavers struggle against Arizona’s pressure, finishing 8 of 29 in the second half to spoil any chance of a comeback.
“Arizona is really aggressive, which pushed us into taking shots we’re not comfortable with,” Oregon State guard Malcolm Duvivier said. “We couldn’t get the ball in the rim tonight even though we were getting people in positions to score.
Oregon State: The Beavers played without suspended forward Victor Robbins for the sixth straight game. … Oregon has not swept Arizona since 1983.
Arizona: The Wildcats played without backup point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright due to a concussion sustained Wednesday against Oregon. … Arizona has won 17 straight home conference games.
Oregon State: hosts Washington State on Thursday.
Arizona: plays at Arizona State on Feb. 7.
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