If the Arizona Wildcats head down to the wire tonight at ASU, there’s a pretty good chance the ball lands in Nick Johnson’s hands.
After all, despite the junior guard’s recent slump, he’s the guy that odds suggest the Wildcats should turn to in crunch time.
Ever since he hit four of four free throws in the final 38 seconds to put away UA’s 69-60 win over San Diego State on Nov. 14, Johnson has shown a fondness for clutch shooting.
He hit a big second-half three against Duke on Nov. 29, hit 6 of 6 free throws in the final 24 seconds at Michigan on Dec. 14, and lunged in a go-ahead floater on Jan. 9 at UCLA, among others.
After the Michigan game, he indicated he was trying to follow after former teammate Mark Lyons, who won games in the clutch for the Wildcats last season.
“I thought about him,” Johnson said. “A few games last year, it was tied or we’d be down and he went to score and drew foul. He’d get to the line and hit free throws.”
Johnson has done it in nearly every close game this season.
In the final five minutes of games decided by less than 10 points, Johnson’s shooting numbers are better across the board: He makes 63.6 percent of his two-pointers, 40 percent of his threes and 82.8 percent of his free throws.
And during the one game where Johnson didn’t have his shooting touch, when he went 1 for 14 overall from the field at Cal on Feb. 1 with two failed shots over the final five minutes, the Wildcats lost for the only time this season.
UA coach Sean Miller put that one in perspective.
“I think we all know we wouldn’t be anywhere close to 21-1 without Nick,” he said after the Cal game.
Johnson has continued to slump since that game, shooting a combined 25 percent from the field and missing all 12 threes he’s taken in the past three UA games. But he’s still a combined 12 for 15 from the free-throw line over that period and does so many other things to help, Miller says, that he’s still been of high value.
Even though Johnson was 5 of 16 overall, and 0 for 5 from three-point range in UA’s 67-65 win over Oregon on Feb. 6, Miller said he told Johnson it was one of his best games of the season.
“He didn’t make threes but he’s so far beyond having to make three-point shots to play well,” Miller said. It’s “what he does on defense, what he does on rebounding, and the fact that he plays three positions in one game. He can score at the basket in pull-ups, he’s …a much, much better offensive player than just having to play the three.”
Johnson said he believes he’s a different player as a junior, too.
“I’m a leader now, I know that I’m a lot more mature than in past years,” Johnson said. “I know I bring to the table a lot of things that don’t show up in the box score. Everybody looks at me for confidence and stuff like that so I’m just trying to stay confident for my team and know that those shots will go in next game.”
When they do, the Wildcats could be even tougher to beat.
“The good news is he’s going to get back on track from three,” Miller said. “With our team being able to win without him making threes, you can imagine how it’ll look when he makes some threes, because we’ve gone three games in a row without that being part of our equation.”
Nick Johnson's overall shooting
|Type||Overall||Crunch time *|
Nick Johnson's shooting in close games
Nov. 14 San Diego State (W, 69-60)
Nov. 27 Drexel (W, 66-62)
Nov. 29 Duke (W, 72-66)
Dec. 7 UNLV (W, 63-58)
Dec. 14 Michigan (W, 72-70)
Jan. 4 Washington (W, 71-62)
Jan. 9 UCLA (W, 79-75)
Jan. 26 Utah (W, 65-56)
Jan. 29 Stanford (W, 60-57)
Feb. 1 California (L, 60-58)
Feb. 6 Oregon (W, 67-65)