When Nick Johnson hit a three-pointer to reach the 1,000-point threshold at Arizona on Thursday, he did so off a pass from Aaron Gordon.
Guess who that upset?
“T.J. (McConnell) was kind of mad at me,” Johnson said. “He said he wanted to assist me on that 1,000th point. But it feels good to just be in that type of category here at Arizona.”
Johnson is now the 48th player to score in four figures over his career at Arizona, and if he returns for his senior season, he could crack the top 10 of UA’s all-time scorers.
No. 10 on the list now is Al Fleming, who scored 1,765 between 1972-76. Johnson could play another 50-60 games through the end of next season, and even 50 games at his current average of 16.3 would get him to 1,824, which would be seventh, just behind current UA assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who had 1,849 between 1991-95.
In talking again about the fact that he couldn’t get Johnson invited to any camp or other high-level opportunities last summer, Miller said Johnson is also motivated by the snubs.
“There were a number of opportunities I really wanted him to get, but no one wanted him to be a part of those opportunities,” Miller said. “I think he’s played with a chip on his shoulder in a healthy way. If there’s anybody who means more to his team than Nick does to ours, they’re an all American.”
The one thing Miller wasn’t happy about: That UA made just 8 of 15 free throws, a 53.3-percent mark that dragged its season free-throw mark down to 67.0.
“If we would make free throws better, that’s something we’ve been good at recently …” Miller said. “We left some points on the table.”
Miller praised the defense of center Kaleb Tarczewski, who helped hold ASU’s Jordan Bachynski to 0-for-3 shooting and found Jahii Carson off ball screens.
“He has become a great low-post defender,” Miller said. “He’s smarter. Because of his physicality, who he is with weight loss and transformation of his body, he moves quicker. So he’s able to move quicker and still be physical.
“It’s his quickness and intelligence and size inside that kind of anchors our defense. I felt when he didn’t play the two games (in December, when Tarczewski sprained an ankle) and you feel it in a positive way when he’s back in. He does a lot of things that don’t show up on the stat sheet, but he did a really good job tonight on Bachynski, and Bachynski’s really improved.”
Miller and the three UA players brought in for postgame interviews were asked if they felt pressure being 18-0. Nick Johnson said “no sir,” and Miller didn’t appear worried about that, either.
“They really haven’t watched it to this point,” Miller said. “I feel we have a confident team but in a good way. A lot of players who were part of a big winning streak last year saw how quickly it can leave you if you don’t continue to work hard and get better.
“I believe the mission of this year’s team is to try to be a team that really practices and shows up. Leave one game behind and quickly move to the next. So far, so good. We only have 18 games (in the Pac-12). We know these next two games are home games and we have to take advantage of them.”
Miller was asked about the fact that McConnell dove for a loose ball, with UA up big in the second half, and managed to dish it to Johnson, who scored a layup.
“T.J. is the consummate point guard,” Miller said. “What he does on both offense and defense… that play is the epitome of his game. He has a knack for getting hands on balls, defensively he plays hard and he’s unselfish. You kind of saw all those elements on one play. That was as good a play as you can make in basketball. … His value cannot be stated enough in how he brings out the best in his teammates.”
Miller was also asked how Aaron Gordon compared to the other well-hyped freshmen in college basketball.
“Aaron Gordon, he just tries to be Aaron Gordon,” Miller said. “That’s the beauty of him. He doesn’t try to do anything but just be a winner. If you look at the stat sheet tonight, I can’t even recollect the 12 shots that he took. It surprises me. Seven for 12, six rebound, three assists, 32 minutes? He just has a way. You look at the stat sheet and it’s, `Wow’ he did more than you realize. He just had a way of playing the game.”
When Johnson was asked about Gordon, he was similarly supportive.
“He does a lot of things for our team,” Johnson said. “His rebounding numbers are great. He can score. He’s playing three right now so he has a little smaller people on him, and he likes to take advantage of his size. He’s great for us, so I definitely think he’s done of the top freshmen in the country.
Arizona’s natural gifts of being long and athletic alone aren’t what make it good defensively, Miller said.
“You can be long and not effective,” he said. “Part of our effectiveness is Kaleb’s continued development, his intelligence as a defender and and obviously Aaron and Rondae, they’re both really long and quick. They have a defensive mindset, which is unique for freshmen, they’re more development and progress on offense. Defensively, they’re ahead of the curve. Those two guys have brought a lot of that length and athleticism as well.”
Miller praised the capacity “red-out” crowd of 14,545.
“An incredible crowd,” he said. “I thought the electricity in McKale, whether it be our team’s energy, the effort level from our team, or the atmosphere, it kind of all became one. I was really happy with way we played the game tonight.”
Johnson's brother, Chris, played in his first UA game Thursday after being ineligible during the fall as a transfer from Cal State San Bernardino, though Miller didn't say much when I asked about playing him.
“I mean, Eric Conklin played,” Miller said. “Jacob Hazzard played. I played him.”
When asked what Chris Johnson has brought to his team, Miller said: “he’s a really good kid, he’s a walk-on, he’s eligible now after transferring and we put him in the game tonight.”
The Wildcats will have a full week before their next game, on Jan. 23 against Colorado, but Miller wasn’t concerned that the Wildcats suffer from the layoff.
“One of the many things this team has done well is at times like this we’ve tried to stay focused on the process,” he said. “Everything behind us is behind us, whether we won or lost. It’s a matter of how much better can we get in this week off leading to Colorado.
“It’s something we talked a lot about and our team has been responsible doing it. But also it’s good at this time of year to have a couple of days off. We were in L.A. for five days and all of a sudden you’re quickly into a game with ASU. The seven-day break comes at a good time for us.”
Here's the official box score.
Solomon Hill enjoyed seeing the result.
Elsewhere around the Pac-12:
Colorado lost to UCLA while trying to learn how to live without "third amigo" Spencer Dinwiddie.
Delon Wright had 22 points to lead Utah past USC.