UA's Nick Johnson finishes a fast-break dunk over ASU's Carrick Felix - off a steal from Solomon Hill - to give the Cats a 44-28 lead early in the second half. "That's the Nick that's played with us the entire season," says coach Sean Miller, who liked Johnson's defense, too.


The face of the Arizona Wildcats' triple-overtime victory at California came with a tongue that wagged, shoulders that gyrated and legs that strutted for probably a mile or so.

Then, after the game, MoMo Jones told the media at Haas Pavilion that "big-time players make big plays." That "you're not a New York guard if you don't want the ball at the end of the clock, point blank, end of story."

And that it was all "just another game," another day in the life of MoMo Jones.

Sean Miller heard it and grimaced a bit. Not that the Arizona Wildcats coach doesn't embrace Jones' supreme confidence, but because some people who don't know Jones might dismiss him as just another cocky player.

Miller says at the core of Jones, there's a proud Harlem product who has digested every word of every criticism during his sometimes rough transition to a full-time point guard this season.

"He doesn't mean to come across as this self-centered player, this cocky and brash and arrogant guy, as much as to say, 'I believed in myself all along when I know a lot of people didn't, and I'm glad I'm playing better, and hopefully I can continue it,'" Miller said. "If I had to categorize all of the comments and put it in a nutshell, that's really where he stands. He just probably, as a young person, needs to articulate it a little bit better."

Miller said he has spoken with Jones about his comments since the Cal game, and Jones said he understands that sometimes he has to tone down his comments.

"A lot of people may take some of the things I say to heart or the wrong way," Jones said. "It's not trying to be that way or trying to be cocky or anything. It's just speaking how I feel."

His outlook might be traced to his childhood in Harlem, where the primary father figure in his life, Clarence Sims, was killed when MoMo was just 9 years old.

The child learned quickly that he had to stand up for everything he wanted and believed in.

"The odds have always been against him," said UA assistant coach Book Richardson, Jones' godfather, and once a good friend of Sims. "He's a young man who has survived all this life going through situations with his dad, and being the man of the house as a young kid with his mom and his sisters around. He just wills himself to a level where at times it seems arrogant and cocky, but it's just confident. He's always had to be that way."

Same went for Jones' upbringing on the court. Jones and teammate Kevin Parrom grew up playing on New York courts where, if you lost, you might not get to play again for four or five games.

They continued to develop in big games in city leagues, summer-league tournaments, and exhibitions. They had to be tough.

So when Jones said beating Cal in three overtimes was just another game, well, maybe he's not exaggerating that much. And maybe it's not a coincidence that Parrom scored 25 points in a reserve role.

"Kevin and MoMo have been in so many high-level games that it wasn't that different," Richardson said. "When you're 10, 11, 12 years old and play high-level games, they all kind of seem the same.

"To me, that was an NCAA tournament-type of game, where no one wanted to lose. But Kevin and MoMo had 52 (combined points) and neither one of them was jumping around. These are battle-tested young men."

The Cal game was some proof, finally, that Jones could handle the role he was assigned this season. He had proven himself again on a different stage, in a place far from New York.

"No one's ever really given him anything," Miller said. "He's always fought hard in a city where there's a lot of pride. I think he came to Arizona to be a guard that people love to watch and to do some of the things the former players have done here. …

"But if you get beaten up a little bit, go through some adversity and are criticized, you really do want to prove people wrong, and what you're sensing is that confidence of, 'I told you I could do it.' "

Jones still might not be the prototypical guy in the marquee position at what has been called Point Guard U. For one thing, he has 50 turnovers to his 58 assists.

But he's also making 51 percent of his field goals and leading the team in free throws at 86 percent in conference play.

And, perhaps most importantly, he's the lead guard of a team that is 20-4, is on top of the Pac-10 and is ranked No. 15 in the country.

With Jones, it may not be all about the tangibles.

"He does have a great sense of belief and confidence in himself," Miller said. "That's an attribute a lot of teams would like to have, because it can be contagious. There's no bigger set of evidence than watching him against Cal."

Up next

• What: Arizona at Arizona State

• When: 7 p.m. Sunday


• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM