Johnson picks up free-throw slack for Arizona basketball
Junior shooting guard Nick Johnson has been enjoying one of the best starts to a season a player could imagine. After being named the most outstanding player at the NIT Championship game and subsequently lighting up Madison Square Garden to the tune of 15 points, three assists, two rebounds, two blocks and two steals, Johnson returned home en route to putting up double-digits for the eighth consecutive game this season.
Johnson has amassed 20 or more points three times this year and leads the team from the free throw line, having successfully converted 35 of 43 attempts (81.4 percent).
“Against Duke, [while] he struggled in the first half, he came back [to have] a monster second half and was really deserving to be named the MVP [of the Preseason NIT],” junior guard T.J. McConnell said. “He’s playing great for us.”
Gordon’s free throw woes
Tyler Baker / The Daily Wildcat UA junior guard Nick Johnson goes in for a layup against Texas Tech on Tuesday at the McKale Center.
After struggling from the free throw line against Texas Tech, freshman starting forward Aaron Gordon should be quick to forget about his uncharacteristic slip on the score sheet.
“He’s on his way to better [consistency]; he just needs to stay with it,” Johnson said. “He’s a great player, and one thing about him is he works really hard. He’ll improve.”
Johnson was quick to remind everyone that while Gordon’s free throw percentage may have been a dismal 33.3 percent Tuesday night, he shot with 87.5 percent accuracy from the stripe during the NIT Tip-Off semifinal in New York City.
In fact, the highly touted freshman did not compile a lower free throw percentage in any game this season, other than his 0-for-2 performance at San Diego State. In the three games prior to Arizona’s return to McKale Center on Tuesday, Gordon sunk nine of 11 (81.81 percent) of his last attempts from the line and was setting a respectable pace over the seven non-conference games before Arizona faced off against Texas Tech, averaging a 55.2 percent free throw conversion rate.
After giving up 11 turnovers during Tuesday night’s first half against Texas Tech, Arizona’s offense kicked it into high gear throughout the second half and showed that it could bounce back.
“One of the things that we obviously weren’t happy about on our side was that we were really sloppy on offense in the first half,” head coach Sean Miller said. “I credit Texas Tech a great deal; they deflect, have a lot of athletic talent, play extremely hard — [but] we knew that coming in. The good news for us is that we were able to put that bad first half behind us.”
Miller said he was pleased that his team was able to bounce back and secure another victory. The Wildcats sharpened up and managed to commit seven fewer turnovers during the contest’s final period.
“Some were a result of bad passes, but some were lackadaisical, just not catching passes,” Johnson said. “We were better after that and finished with 15, so just four in the second half. We fixed that. We just have to concentrate. Us older guys have to lead the way going forward.”
—Follow Evan Rosenfeld @EvanRosenfeld17