Arizona basketball

Johnson's consistency has led Cats to the top

2013-12-28T00:00:00Z 2014-04-03T12:28:53Z Johnson's consistency has led Cats to the topBy Bruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 28, 2013 12:00 am  • 

After he swatted away a San Diego State shot to preserve the Arizona Wildcats’ championship in the Diamond Head Classic last season, Nick Johnson had an argument as the Wildcats’ nonconference MVP because of his contributions on both sides of the ball.

This time around, there appears to be no argument.

The junior guard has led the team in scoring (16.0 points per game) during its 13-0 nonconference run, is second in steals and assists and leads the Wildcats in free-throw shooting percentage at 83.3 percent.

That’s just the intangible stuff, too. Johnson has shown a knack for playing well when the Wildcats are otherwise off, and he’s the glue for what senior guard Jordin Mayes says is some of the best chemistry he’s ever seen.

But at the same time, all four other starters have had moments, or long stretches, where they played like the team’s most valuable player, too. If it wasn’t T.J. McConnell’s game-changing skills as a savvy pass-first point guard, it was Aaron Gordon’s athleticism and drive, Brandon Ashley’s length and improving perimeter skills, or Kaleb Tarczewski’s dominance inside.

So while UA coach Sean Miller says Johnson has been the team’s best overall player so far, he was also quick to discuss everyone else. Even sixth man Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the Wildcats’ long and aggressive freshman forward, and strong-shooting reserve guard Gabe York.

“He’s been our most consistent player,” Miller said of Johnson. “He’s done it on both ends. He’s done it game in and game out, and with that, I’d also say the other six are all valuable, they’ve all had great moments, but Nick right now through 13 games is outstanding.”

Here’s a look back at how Johnson and the other UA starters stood out during the nonconference season:

Nick Johnson

  • Info:
  • Junior shooting guard
  • Numbers:
  • 16.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.5 apg, 83.3 percent free-throw percentage
  • Beyond the stats:
  • Initiated duplex rental for teammates for bonding, often the passer or finisher on UA’s alley-oops, defends opponents’ best top perimeter threat

Best games:

  • Nov. 14, San Diego State:
  • Led UA with 23 points and shot 8 for 15
  • Nov. 27, Drexel:
  • Shot just 1 for 6 from three-point range but was 9 for 10 from the free-throw line and scored 20 points
  • Nov. 29, Duke:
  • Had a steal and step-back three to cap UA’s 12-3 second-half run and give the Wildcats control of the game with a 57-48 lead
  • Miller said it (on Dec. 23):
  • “I wouldn’t trade him for any player in the country, based on his performance. With Nick’s performance, I’d put against any guard in the country through 13 games. He’s a big reason why our team’s 13-0.”

T.J. McConnell

  • Info:
  • Junior point guard
  • Numbers:
  • 6.5 ppg, 6.5 apg, 3.3-to-1 assist-
    to-turnover ratio
  • Beyond the stats:
  • Unselfishness, uncanny timing, dogged defense.

Best games:

  • Nov. 14, San Diego State:
  • Dished an inbounds alley-oop pass to Aaron Gordon, who dunked to help preserve a close UA win, while totaling seven points and six assists
  • Nov. 29, Duke:
  • 10 points, six rebounds, eight assists and only two turnovers in 39 minutes
  • Dec. 7, UNLV:
  • Made or assisted on UA’s final five baskets in a tense 63-58 win, finishing with 13 points, seven rebounds, six assists, three steals and one turnover
  • Miller said it (on Nov. 19):
  • “He’s unselfish and always in search of a teammate. His assist-to-turnover ratio speaks for itself.”

Aaron Gordon

  • Info:
  • Freshman combo forward
  • Numbers
  • : 12.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 50.0 field goal percentage
  • Beyond the stats:
  • Similar intensity no matter what the score or opponent, often unstoppable on dunks or layups

Best games:

  • Nov. 9, Cal Poly:
  • 13 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks in first college game despite a groin strain
  • Nov. 14 San Diego State:
  • 16 points, eight rebounds, three steals, two blocks and 7-for-12 shooting in first college road game
  • Dec. 14, Michigan:
  • 14 points, five rebounds and strong second-half defense on Glenn Robinson III, who scored only four of his 20 points after halftime
  • Miller said it (on Nov. 14):
  • “He’s an incredible player, but to me what separates Aaron Gordon is who he is as a person and his attitude.

“He’s a fun guy to coach, a great teammate, hard worker and a very smart kid, very unassuming. He goes about his business like a true professional, and we’re lucky to have him.”

Brandon Ashley

  • Info:
  • Sophomore power forward
  • Numbers:
  • 12.5 ppg,
    7.0 rpg, 54.4 field goal percentage, 44.4 percent three-point percentage
  • Beyond the stats:
  • Improving defensive and strong perimeter skills, work ethic and maturity

Best games:

  • Dec. 3, Texas Tech:
  • Had 18 points, 10 rebounds and was 2 of 2 from three-point range
  • Dec. 11 New Mexico State:
  • Hit all three three-point shots, with 15 points total
  • Dec. 14, Michigan:
  • 18 points and six rebounds
  • Miller said it (on Dec. 11):
  • “No one has outworked Brandon since the end of last season. He works on his shooting every day, many times after practice. When he’s open, there’s not a player on our team that’s any better.”

Kaleb Tarczewski

  • Info:
  • Sophomore center
  • Numbers:
  • 10.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 58.6 field goal percentage
  • Beyond the stats:
  • Toughness, athleticism for size, traditional back-to-basket skills

Best games:

  • Drexel, Nov. 27
  • : Scored 13 of his 15 points in second half of UA’s comeback win, finishing with 15 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks
  • Duke, Nov. 29:
  • Took advantage of Blue Devils’ smaller frontcourt with 10 points and nine rebounds
  • Michigan, Dec. 14:
  • Had 14 points and nine rebounds over 26 minutes while continuing to play on badly sprained ankle
  • Miller said it (on Nov. 27):
  • “When you’re a 7-footer, there’s always those games when it feels too fast. But he was really good in the second half (against Drexel). It shows his growth and improvement as a player. It was good to see him work through it.”

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Pac-12 South football standings

Team W L T PCT
Arizona 5 1 0 0.833
Utah 5 1 0 0.833
USC 5 2 0 0.714
ASU 5 1 0 0.833
UCLA 5 2 0 0.714
Colorado 3 4 0 0.429

Pac-12 North football standings

Team W L T PCT
Oregon 6 1 0 0.857
Oregon State 4 2 0 0.667
Stanford 4 3 0 0.571
Washington 5 2 0 0.714
Cal 4 3 0 0.571
Washington State 2 5 0 0.286
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