HONOLULU - Leave it to Nick "Bunnies" Johnson to put new meaning into the term "help defense."
Johnson's monstrous leap to block Chase Tapley's layup along the left baseline Tuesday may go down as memorable as any of his high-flying dunks he's already thrown down in a season-and-a-half with the Wildcats.
Johnson's improbable block saved UA's 68-67 win over San Diego State in the Diamond Head Classic championship game and kept the Wildcats undefeated heading into Pac-12 play.
"Nick, obviously, came out of nowhere," UA coach Sean Miller said.
Johnson said the block compared to his denial of Justin Cobbs' layup at the end of UA's 78-74 win at California last season, but this one was with a one-point differential and with three seconds left on the clock.
As the final seconds wore down, San Diego State's Skylar Spencer set a screen that prompted Johnson and Brandon Ashley to switch the men they were guarding. Then Tapley raced past Ashley for what appeared to be a near-certain, game-winning layup.
"I came around a screen, and the Red Sea parted," Tapley told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "I was thinking the game was over, and the next thing you know, he banged my stuff off the backboard."
Everyone thought it was over.
"It was scary," UA forward Solomon Hill said. "I'm not going to lie."
UA point guard Mark Lyons didn't feel any better. He gave UA a one-point lead on the previous possession by hitting two free throws after he drove inside for a layup, only to see it about to be erased.
Or so he thought.
"Honestly, I was nervous once Tapley turned the corner on Brandon," Lyons said. "I was like, 'Man, it's game over.'"
Then, as Lyons spoke in the Stan Sheriff Center hallway following the game, he motioned toward Johnson. "But Superman Bunnies over there came in and denied the shot," he said.
Bunnies himself described it a bit more modestly.
"Coach ran a pretty good play to get my guy and Brandon's guy switched," Johnson said. "I was on Tapley, but they set a little rub screen, and Tapley got the ball and went around him. So I just decided to help."
Just decided to help.
On StarNet: Follow the Cats on Bruce Pascoe's blog at azstarnet.com/pascoe
Top UA performers at the Diamond Head Classic
Pos Player Pts Reb Asst FG% 3pt%
F Solomon Hill 12.3 5.0 2.3 42.3 12.5
G Mark Lyons 12.0 1.7 3.7 38.7 30.0
G Nick Johnson 10.0 4.7 2.0 35.7 27.2
F Kevin Parrom 11.6 6.0 1.7 58.3 67.0
F Brandon Ashley 8.3 8.0 0.7 55.6 NA
• What: Colorado at No. 3 Arizona
• Where: McKale Center
• When: 6 p.m. Jan. 3
• TV; radio: ESPNU; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Sp)