Break gives Miller time to adjust starting lineup for Arizona basketball
Johnson becoming a better defender
The No. 9 Arizona (3-0) men’s basketball team has had a 10-day break between last week’s win over Long Beach State and Wednesday’s game with Northern Arizona, giving head coach Sean Miller time to adjust his team’s starting lineups in terms of which of his four frontcourt players will get the starting nod.
Against Long Beach State, Brandon Ashley got his first start at forward over fellow freshman Grant Jerrett and recorded the Wildcats’ first double-double of the season, scoring a team-high 20 points and 10 rebounds.
During Thanksgiving break, when many other teams played in national tournaments, Wildcat players remained in Tucson and practiced every day except Thursday. Miller was particularly impressed with the frontcourt.
“When I watch our frontcourt, it’s amazing how each one of those guys will have the best practice or for an extended period of time they will stand out, and I think that’s a healthy thing for this year’s team,” Miller said.
Larry Hogan / Arizona Daily Wildcat UA vs UTEP
Nick Johnson becoming better defender
Former Wildcat guard Kyle Fogg was Arizona’s lockdown defender before he graduated after last season. His job, according to Miller, was to be “that one player you can point to where you know he’s going to guard the other team’s best wing player, and do it well.”
This season, that job looks to have fallen on sophomore guard Nick Johnson.
“Nick Johnson isn’t talked a lot about right now because he’s no longer a freshman, and a lot of the November conversations center around the newcomers and the oldest players, like Solomon [Hill],” Miller said. “Nick is doing a great job for our team. He is lightyears ahead of where he was as a defender than at any time a year ago. He learned a lot from Kyle. Nick takes his defense very seriously.”
Johnson helped to lock down Long Beach State’s leading scorer Mike Caffey to three points on seven shots on Nov. 19 and allowed him to only gather four rebounds in Arizona’s 94-72 win.
Miller ‘cherishes home games’
The Wildcats have played all five of their games — two exhibition and three regular season games — in McKale Center, and Miller has spent opening portions of each postgame press conference praising the atmosphere that the crowd and the ZonaZoo provide for Arizona.
Arizona’s first road game is Dec. 1 against Texas Tech, but Miller relishes the chance for one more home appearance.
“We cherish home games,” Miller said. “No one has to give these guys a pep talk or smack on the butt for them to know that every game is a big game. When we play a home game, we want to be at our best and utilize the ZonaZoo and the energy that’s in our building to make this a very difficult place for our opponents.”
In three regular season games, the Wildcats have averaged a crowd of 13,820 per game, about 200 more than in home games last season.