Lyons, Johnson leading UA from the backcourt
How do Arizona's talented starting guards stack up against the best of the Pac-12?
Tyler Besh / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Men’s basketball vs ASU
The latest “Duel in the Desert” was dominated by backcourt play.
In Saturday’s 71-54 Arizona win, Wildcats Nick Johnson and Mark Lyons, and ASU’s Jahii Carson and Evan Gordon combined for 79 of the game’s 125 points.
It was the second half play of Arizona’s guards, though, that won the game for the No. 6 Wildcats (16-1, 4-1 Pac-12).
The first half was tightly contested, with eight lead changes and five ties and the Sun Devils (14-4, 3-2) trailed by three points at intermission, 29-26.
Johnson opened the second half with Arizona’s first three field goals, giving the Wildcats a seven-point lead with 15:51 remaining.
“He does that every game,” said Lyons, who scored a game-high 24 points. “He came to play tonight.”
Lyons, who was named Pac-12 Player of the Week on Monday, did, too. If Johnson blew the game open, then Lyons put it away. After Johnson’s scoring barrage to start the half, Lyons would score 15 of the Wildcats next 34 points to put the nail in the ASU coffin.
“Mark was ready for this game,” said UA senior forward Solomon Hill.
In the days and weeks leading up to the game, there was debate about who was the better point guard in the Pac-12, prompted by a tweet from Carson declaring himself the best of the bunch. A foul trouble-ridden Carson might have given Lyons the edge on Saturday, but based off the level of guard play in the game, perhaps a better debate would be revolved around the best backcourt in the conference.
Gordon and Carson had 23 of ASU’s 26 first half points, and with Carrick Felix struggling, they were the two best Sun Devils on the court.
Johnson and Lyons played a more complete game, however, and looked like the more consistent backcourt duo early in Pac-12 play.
Lyons believes he and Johnson can match-up with anyone.
“Personally, I think we got one of the best backcourts in the country,” said Lyons, who leads Arizona with 15.2 points and 3.3 assists per game.
Johnson adds 12.7 points and leads the conference with 2.24 steals per game.
How the UA stacks up with the conference’s other backcourts:
Arizona State (14-4, 3-2)
ASU went 10-21 last season. But the Sun Devils appear to have turned it around, winning their 10th game before the new year.
The biggest difference? Carson.
Carson, who was ineligible last year for academic reasons, has been a revelation for ASU.
He’s fifth in the Pac-12 with 17.3 points per game, second at 5.2 assists and is a legitimate contender for Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Gordon has been a pleasant surprise for the Sun Devils, getting 10.1 points, 2.2 assists and 1.9 3-pointers per game.
California (10-7, 2-3)
The Golden Bears, picked to finish third in the Pac-12 Media pre-season poll, have struggled in the early going, but don’t blame their backcourt.
Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs are the conferences most prolific scoring duo, at 19.8 and 14.8 points per game, respectively.
Colorado (12-6, 2-4)
No, Sabatino Chen is not a part of the Buffaloes talented starting backcourt.
Spencer Dinwiddie, though, can make a case as the Pac-12’s best (and tallest at 6-foot-6) all-around point guard.
His averages: 14.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.4 3-pointers per game. Plus, he gets to the free throw line 6.4 times per game, the best in the Pac-12.
Askia Booker, who scored 18 points against Arizona, scores 13.2 points per game for the Buffs.
Oregon (16-2, 5-0)
Their numbers don’t jump out at you, but the Duck’s guards are a big reason why the Ducks are sitting atop the Pac-12 standings in the early going.
Carson has received most of the freshmen guard-related attention, but Damyean Dotson and Domonic Artis have been impressive in their own right.
Dotson is efficient, leading with 11.9 points per game, shooting at a 48 percent clip and with just 1.3 turnovers per contest.
Artis tallies 10.3 points, 2.4 rebounds and a team-leading 3.8 assists per game.
UCLA (15-4, 5-1)
While Lyons and Carson argue over who’s the best at the one, Larry Drew II is quietly making a little case of his own.
The UNC transfer only scores 5.8 points per game, but leads the Pac-12 with 8.1 assists per game against just 1.7 turnovers.
Jordan Adams might be the third-best freshman in the conference, behind Carson and UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad. He scores 15.2 points per game.
Washington (12-6, 4-1)
The Huskies’ hot start to conference play couldn’t have happened without two-guard C.J. Wilcox, a sure-fire All-Pac-12 Conference selection. Wilcox only trails Crabbe in scoring, with 19.1 points per game, and he adds 4.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.3 blocks per game to boot.
Abdul Gaddy runs the point for UW, and he gets 11.1 points and 3.6 assists per game, although his 2.9 turnovers per game are a concern.