Nick Johnson didn’t get the award he wanted, and Sean Miller couldn’t find one for center Kaleb Tarczewski.
But they were hardly complaints Monday, when the No. 4 Arizona Wildcats dominated the Pac-12’s annual postseason awards. Minor quibbles, really.
Johnson was named the Pac-12’s Player of the Year, Miller the Coach of the Year and Aaron Gordon the Freshman of the Year, which is just the way Miller figured things should pan out for a team that won the conference with a 15-3 record.
And it was even better for Johnson, who said he wanted to win the Defensive Player of the Year award but instead won the overall Player of the Year.
“It’s a great honor,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Neither, really, could Miller.
“You always say to the players that the individual accolades will follow” team success, Miller said. “It’s really nice to see that come true.”
While Miller, Johnson and Gordon earned top individual honors, Gordon and Johnson were named to the 10-man all-Pac-12 first team and junior guard T.J. McConnell was named to the five-man second all-Pac-12 team. Also, freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson joined Gordon on the five-man freshman team.
The only issue for Miller: That Tarczewski wasn’t invited to the party, too, not even for honorable-mention honors.
“You want to be even greedier,” Miller said. “I would have loved to have had Kaleb be a part of something. I think he was in the running for most improved, was in the running for all-defensive team and might have been close to being an all-conference player.
“But I think the best is yet to come for him and, no question, he’s a big part of what we’ve done as well.”
After Arizona put up by far the conference’s best defensive numbers — holding Pac-12 opponents to just 60.2 points and 39.5 percent shooting on average — Miller said that both Tarczewski and Gordon were worthy of being on the five-man defensive team.
In fact, he said he thought Gordon and Johnson were on it, when it was actually Johnson and McConnell.
“Wow. I didn’t realize that,” Miller said. “We could have put four guys on that team. … Aaron and Kaleb could have clearly been on that. But you can’t put ‘em all on.”
Although Gordon’s athleticism and powerful dunks get him on television highlights repeatedly, Johnson said the freshman is well-regarded for his ability to defend multiple positions well and said Tarczewski has been a defensive anchor in the low post.
“Aaron and Kaleb have been such a big part of our defense,” Johnson said. “I know we can’t put all four or five of us on (the first team), but it definitely could have been (any) one of them.”
Defense is such a serious mission with the Wildcats that Johnson said it wasn’t even a goal of his to win the Player of the Year honors.
“My goal was to get defensive player of the year,” Johnson said. “Didn’t achieve that. I have the other one. But that’s what my mind-set was going into this year and I’m thankful for being on the defensive team.”
That Johnson was regarded as a strong defender — as well as the leader of the first-place Wildcats — most likely helped push him over the top in voting for the Player of the Year, even as competitors such as UCLA triple-double threat Kyle Anderson and Utah boxscore-filler Delon Wright had arguably more impressive numbers.
Johnson finished only 10th among Pac-12 players in scoring (16.2) during conference games, but he often defended the opposing team’s top perimeter threat and finished among the leaders in assists, assist-turnover ratio and steals.
Miller said he expected his coaching counterparts would see beyond the numbers.
“I think they recognize the ingredients of a championship team and you don’t have to look very far to see the importance of Nick Johnson to what we do,” Miller said. “Not only on offense but also on defense. His leadership qualities really stand out as well.”
Similarly, Miller said Gordon has been valuable not only because of his on-court skill but also because of his personality and other intangibles, while McConnell made it on to the second team because of his work at point guard.
“The coaches in our conference recognize (McConnell’s) value as much as anybody because he just makes the game easier for his teammates,” Miller said. “I’m happy for him and ditto for Rondae Jefferson. No question not only in our conference but I think Rondae has established himself as one of the best freshmen in the country.”
The awards mean Johnson and Gordon will both receive a banner in UA’s Ring of Honor, which includes winning a conference Player of the Year or Freshman of the Year honor among its criteria.
Johnson is the UA’s first winner of the Pac-12 Player of the Year award since 2010-11, when Derrick Williams won it, and Gordon is the first Freshman to win it since Williams did in 2009-10. Miller has earned the Pac-12’s Coach of the Year award twice, the last in 2010-11.
- Johnson was also one of five players named to the
- Sporting News’ first-team
- all-American team, while
- Gordon was placed on the third team.
- The Wildcats dropped to No. 4 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll after their loss at Oregon, but they stayed in the No. 1 spot in the NCAA’s RPI, as well as the Sagarin and ESPN BPI power ratings.
- After two days off, the Cats will resume practice today and Wednesday, then fly to Las Vegas, where they will find out if they will play Utah or Washington on Thursday. Miller said the team would then hold a meeting to go over the opponent.