Nick Johnson held his own as an emergency point guard at Florida on Wednesday, but he never looked more comfortable as an Arizona Wildcat than Saturday.
During Arizona's 63-47 win over Clemson at McKale Center, Johnson shook up the normally composed and rigid Tigers defense for 14 acrobatic points while playing with a much stronger supporting cast.
Not only was freshman Josiah Turner back at point guard from a suspension that kept him out of the Florida game, backing up starter Jordin Mayes and allowing Johnson to thrive off the ball, but Johnson also had plenty of offensive threats around him.
Forward Solomon Hill had 13 points, including two key baskets late in the game when Clemson pulled to within seven points, while Kyle Fogg added eight points, seven rebounds and stifling defense against a Tigers offense that missed all nine of its first-half three-pointers.
Arizona (7-3) also received five points, five rebounds and a block in just 13 minutes from freshman center Angelo Chol while the Wildcats limited the Tigers to just 31.7 percent overall from the field.
"I thought it was our best win of the season," coach Sean Miller said.
Clemson had the kind of rugged man-to-man defense and patient offensive style that might have caused trouble for the Wildcats a month ago, or even two weeks ago.
But Arizona took a 7-2 lead two minutes into the game, led by 13 at halftime and was threatened only briefly when the Tigers cut it to seven with 4:30 left in the game.
Johnson helped make it difficult for them to get any closer.
In the first half, Johnson threw down a monster one-handed dunk off an inbounds pass to give UA a 17-8 lead, and later drove the baseline after taking a pass from Hill for another one-handed jam to put the Wildcats up 24-10 with 6:09 left in the half.
"Coach really emphasized that they like to slow it down and control the tempo," Johnson said. "So it definitely helped that we got some dunks and everything to get them sped up a little bit."
In the second half, when the UA responded to Clemson's small rally, Johnson took a feed from Turner for a textbook fast-break dunk that gave UA a 55-42 lead.
"You see how much more fluid the offense was when Josiah was there, and when (Turner) was able to back up Jordin," Hill said. Johnson "felt more comfortable on the wing and just not being on the ball so much."
"That's where I've been at my whole life, so obviously it's going to be a little more comfortable for me," Johnson said. "I'm going to continue to play both spots and get better at both."
When Johnson was asked which dunk was his favorite, Hill interrupted. "The one I threw to him," Hill said, drawing smiles.
That point may be debatable but the fact is that Hill made another major impact, especially when the Wildcats needed it most late in the game.
After Clemson cut UA's lead to seven on a layup by T.J. Sapp with 4:30 left, Hill had a layup and a jumper within the next 75 seconds to quickly make it 53-42.
"He certainly made two big plays down the stretch," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "I think his ability to bust out with the ball was a real problem for us."
So was his determination. Arizona had given up a seven-point lead in the second half against Florida but no such thing was going to happen this time. Not if Hill had any say in the matter.
"I kind of took it upon myself," Hill said. "It was kind of like flashbacks to me, letting a team come back like that. We came out of that media timeout and scored four quick points just to relieve pressure. They had the momentum; they were feeling good. It just gave our team some reassurance."
Later, with 2:20 to go, Hill was back to feed Johnson for another layup and Arizona suddenly led by 15.
"Solomon, you really could just tell he made his mind up" to stop Clemson, Miller said. "But he made it up in a positive way. The baskets he scored were really great shots for us. He didn't try to force it. He is certainly one of the guys in a big situations that we want to get the ball to."
And if the Wildcats put it in Johnson's hands, that's usually not a bad thing for them, either. Turner dished to Johnson on the break with three minutes left, a play that wasn't possible Wednesday at Florida.
Turner was sitting out a one-game suspension for unspecified reasons, but Miller said Turner has had a "great attitude" since then. Turner returned Saturday in uniform and Miller says he hopes Turner stays back.
"Josiah, first of all, when you suspend a guy, sometimes unfairly he's put into a category that he's a malcontent or a bad kid," Miller said. "Josiah Turner is neither. It's just there's an adjustment coming from high school to college and each kid is different.
"I hope not playing in the Florida game does nothing but inspire him to get him on the right track, and I hope together we never look back."
• Who: UA vs. Gonzaga in Seattle
• When: 2 p.m. Saturday
• TV: Ch 13
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM