Arizona basketball: Hill, Johnson a force on defense

UA duo total 10 steals in victory, push each other in workouts
2012-12-19T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T12:12:55Z Arizona basketball: Hill, Johnson a force on defensePatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 19, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Nick Johnson and Solomon Hill have been guarding each other in practice for about a month now.

Hill, perhaps the Arizona Wildcats' most competitive player, has watched the smaller, quicker sophomore guard chase him - through screens, around corners and on breaks.

It can get, well, annoying.

"He is active, very active," the senior Hill said about Johnson after the Wildcats' 89-64 win against Oral Roberts on Tuesday night. "He gets me mad a little bit because he's so much lower. It's kinda hard to shake a guy off a screen that's lower than me."

Hill tries to post up, but the UA's "Pack Line" defense mandates a defender help the 6-foot-3-inch Johnson defend the 6-7 Hill in the block.

"It's frustrating, but I'm learning from it, though," Hill said. "And he's learning from me guarding him as well."

Those lessons were apparent at McKale Center, when Johnson shut down the Golden Eagles' leading scorer, Warren Niles, and Hill had a career-high six steals to go along with 12 points.

Sure, Niles finished with 22 points on 6-of-15 shooting, but few of his points were scored with the game close.

"When the game was on the line - I'm talking about the first half - and it was still in doubt, they took him out of the game," ORU coach Scott Sutton said. "And they should. They've got the athletes and size to go out there and defend a guy like Niles."

Niles went 2 of 8 in the first half, after which the UA led 45-31.

He was 2 of 12 before he made three straight three-pointers - but all came in the game's final five minutes, with the Golden Eagles down by 16 or more points.

"They did a great job, and we did a poor job of getting him good looks," Sutton said.

The late points came against other UA defenders.

"It's a shame that he scored 22 points, because I'm not so sure he scored more than five on Nick," UA coach Sean Miller said.

Niles had a game-high eight turnovers; no one else on either team had more than four.

Sutton said the Wildcats "essentially face-guarded" Niles, a senior who entered Tuesday night averaging 20.9 points.

Hill said the UA made it a point to trail screens, knowing ORU would try to get him open by having him curl off of bigger teammates.

"He's a prolific scorer," Hill said. "He's going to get his shots up."

Johnson had 12 points and four steals, leading Miller to declare his season-long totals were "off the charts." Johnson has 27 swipes, more than any two Cats combined.

"His improvement on defense is remarkable from his freshman year to his sophomore year," Miller said. "There were times a year ago when he would have been a liability."

Putting Johnson on Hill - and vice versa - has improved both players. That was part of the plan.

"Solomon Hill is very, very competitive," Miller said. "Every time he's in practice, he tries to dominate. He wants to win. He plays extremely hard. … It really forces Nick to play on a very high level as well."

It's working.

"(Johnson) gets fired up every game," Miller said. "He's been ready for all nine games we've played. He's playing at a very high level. You could make the case he's our team's most consistent player through nine games."

Hill has noticed in daily practice showdowns.

"It's competitive," he said. "I learn off Nick. Nick's a guy that really got going, especially in the Florida game, got a couple big steals.

"I just learn from that …

"We just have to stay with it. It can't be something we do just a couple games and disappear from."

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Pac-12 basketball standings

  Conference Overall
Arizona 14 2 0 0.875 26 3 0 0.897
Utah 12 4 0 0.750 22 6 0 0.786
Oregon 11 5 0 0.688 21 8 0 0.724
UCLA 10 7 0 0.588 18 12 0 0.600
Stanford 9 7 0 0.563 18 10 0 0.643
Oregon State 8 9 0 0.471 16 12 0 0.571
Arizona State 7 9 0 0.438 16 14 0 0.533
California 6 9 0 0.400 16 12 0 0.571
Colorado 6 9 0 0.400 13 13 0 0.500
Washington State 6 10 0 0.375 12 16 0 0.429
Washington 4 12 0 0.250 15 13 0 0.536
USC 3 13 0 0.188 11 17 0 0.393

AP Top 25

Pac-12 basketball schedule

Teams Date Time
USC at
3/4 7:00 pm
Oregon at
Oregon State
3/4 9:00 pm
Colorado at
3/5 7:00 pm
California at
3/5 7:00 pm
Utah at
Washington State
3/5 9:00 pm
Stanford at
Arizona State
3/5 9:00 pm
California at
Arizona State
3/7 12:30 pm
Stanford at
3/7 2:00 pm
Utah at
3/7 2:30 pm
Colorado at
Washington State
3/7 4:30 pm
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