Arizona Wildcats guard Nick Johnson has been named the Pac-12’s Player of the Week, after leading the Wildcats to the NIT Season Tip-Off championship.
Johnson, who was also the NIT’s MVP, averaged 17.5 points, 3.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds while hitting several clutch shots against Drexel and Duke last week in New York.
He beat out California’s Justin Cobbs, who averaged 21.3 points and 5.3 assists per game last week while making the Maui Invitational’s All-Tournament team, among others.
“Nick Johnson was outstanding,” UA coach Sean Miller said earlier today, noting that he expected Johnson would win. “He certainly earned it through his performance and he’s off to a terrific start in his junior year.”
It was the first time Johnson has been awarded the Pac-12 weekly honor, and it was the first for any UA player this season.
During his weekly news conference today, Miller carefully handled questions about the Wildcats’ No. 2 ranking, noting that the Wildcats dropped off a bit last season after they were ranked as high as No. 3.
“I think I’d rather be ranked No. 2 than not ranked, or lower” ranked, Miller said. “If we’re ranked No. 2 in late February, I think it’s much, much more meaningful. It’s still very early on but I do think we’re off to a good start.”
“Those of you who follow college basketball, recognize that San Diego State is not only an excellent team but a terrific program. When we went there a few weeks back and won that game it wasn’t an easy victory -- it was hard earned. So the fact that we were able to win that game and it’s been so far so good at McKale, whatever we are ranked is other people’s opinion, but I do think were playing good basketball.”
The No. 2 ranking is the highest the Wildcats have been ranked under Miller. But when asked if that meant anything to him, Miller said this:
“One thing it's going to mean is that you’re going to get every team’s best shot. There isn’t a team that’s going to play us now that isn’t going to look at our game as something that’s going to be very meaningful to their team and their season. Especially with the parity in the game that we have right now, being able to go on the road and beat Arizona and McKale Center would be something every team would covet to have in in their pocket, so to speak, as you move towards March.
“So we have to be on guard and understand that every game is an important one for us. And the higher you’re ranked, I think the more excited the opponent is to come in here and upset you and try to prove that also they’re a very good team. So to me how we practice and play each game has more significance now."
When asked which players have made the biggest jumps this season, Miller mentioned forward Brandon Ashley, saying he doesn't get as much credit as he deserves, and center Kaleb Tarczewski.
Miller also later complimented freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
"He guarded (Duke's Rodney) Hood and (Jabari) Parker during the minutes that he was in the game," Miller said of the UA-Duke game Friday. "I thought he did an outstanding job making it as hard as he could on two talented offensive players.
"He has tremendous ability and knowing he's from Chester (Pa.), nothing is given to those guys -- they earn everything they get. So that was one of the exciting things about getting Rondae to come be a part of our program, somebody who’s used to winning."
Miller said he was happy to see younger brother Archie Miller’s Dayton team hop in the Top 25, at No. 25.
“Two brothers being in the Top 25 probably hasn’t happened a lot,” Miller said. “He’s got a really good team. They were close to winning the Maui Invitational. He’s had a chance to recruit a couple of classes and I’m really happy for him and for Dayton. I’m sure when they chose him as a coach they looked towards building something special and I think he’s at the beginning stages of not just having a good team this year but also a big future.”