Arizona basketball: Nick Johnson finds rhythm after rough month

Nick Johnson, driving against Larry Drew II, had 10 points and played well on defense in UA's loss at UCLA. "He was in a better place," said coach Sean Miller.


There's a fine line between magic and reality for the Arizona Wildcats in Southern California, and it has nothing to do with Disneyland.

Rather, it's about the Orange County border.

The Wildcats, just 6-16 in Los Angeles since 2005-06, are 6-3 all time at Anaheim's Honda Center, where they will face UCLA on Thursday.

Although the Wildcats suffered humbling losses to Utah (1998) and Kansas (2003) in West Region finals at the building formerly known as the Pond, they created a much fonder memory there last spring by stunning Duke in the West Region semifinal and nearly knocking off UConn in the final.

"Those were great days for our program, and they weren't too long ago," UA coach Sean Miller said. "We were one shot away from a Final Four, and to think back to the incredible crowds we had for those two games and how we performed against Duke, those are all things you don't want to forget."

The memories had reason to be especially sweet for senior guard Kyle Fogg, who is from nearby Brea, Calif. But he and Miller noted just as quickly that the advantage Thursday comes from getting the Bruins away from their true home court, Pauley Pavilion.

"It's going to feel good to get back (to the Honda Center) and play another game," Fogg said. "We really had some success there last season, and it's just kind of away from their home court. It takes a lot of advantage of being at home away from them."

The Bruins had no choice but to leave home once they opted for the major, $185 million renovation of Pauley, a venerable but dated facility that first opened in 1965. So they scheduled an exhibition game in Ontario, Calif., four games at the Honda Center and 14 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena - the creaky old venue USC used to call home.

The games for the Honda Center were chosen because UCLA students are on winter break anyway, and for the benefit of Bruins alumni and fans in Orange County.

"It's pretty nice," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "We've enjoyed the two games we played there. It's nice for the Orange County Bruin fans."

But the Honda Center also doesn't have a bunch of national championship banners hanging in the rafters.

"It's definitely more of a neutral court than playing on their campus," Miller said, "especially with their record and everything you deal with when you walk into Pauley Pavilion, knowing the great history and tradition."

In recent seasons, the Wildcats have actually had more trouble at USC, where the Trojans have won three straight over Arizona. Overall in Los Angeles, UA is 1-3 during the regular season under Miller, and just 2-10 in L.A. over the past six regular seasons.

The Wildcats' visit last season was so painful it threatened to take the swagger out of a team that had previously won eight straight, including a triple-overtime win at California.

UA lost to USC 65-57 on Feb. 24 and, two days later, was drummed 71-49 at UCLA.

"I think we were focused on how well we were playing at the time, and we didn't take the focus we needed to get those wins last year," Fogg said.

Although Fogg managed to produce near his season averages on that trip, forward Solomon Hill averaged 2.5 points over the two games, and Derrick Williams averaged just 11.5.

"Our whole team really struggled when we went to L.A.," Miller said. "It was probably our worst moment of last year's season, but we learned a great lesson when we went there. A lot of our players on last year's team are back, and I think we all know we have to go into this trip with a more focused outlook on ourselves and making sure we're ready to go."

Actually, you could say the Wildcats learned their lesson immediately last season. After the L.A. trip, they won four straight before dropping the Pac-10 tournament final in overtime to Washington. Then they won three NCAA tournament games before their season ended, magically, in Anaheim.

That's the good memory that Miller will carry with him.

"Looking back on that period of time, I wish we all could have slowed time down," Miller said. "When you're in the tournament, you're so into the next game and making sure you're team is ready that you don't have time to reflect on where you're at. But looking back at that time, that place, that arena, Anaheim, will also hold a special place for us."

Cats add walk-ons

The Arizona Wildcats have officially added guard Quinton Crawford and forward Drew Mellon as walk-on players.

Both have been practicing with the Wildcats since mid-December but previously had not been cleared to play or suit up.

Crawford is a 6-foot-1 junior guard from Old Bridge, N.J., who played during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons at Middlesex County College in Edison, N.J. He was an All-Greater Middlesex Conference Red Division honoree at Old Bridge High School in Matawan, N.J.

Mellon is a 6-5 freshman forward from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif. He averaged 4.2 points and 3.8 rebounds as a senior, when he served as team captain.

Mellon is scheduled to travel to this weekend's UA games against UCLA and USC, but Crawford will not. The Pac-12 allows only 15 players to travel to conference games, and UA now has 16. In addition, Crawford needs additional clearance before he can travel.

Up next

• What: Arizona at UCLA

• When: 9 p.m. Thursday


• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM