Grand win for Johnson and Arizona
With a commanding lead against ASU and a charged-up McKale Center decked in all red, junior Wildcat Nick Johnson sunk the smoothest three points of his previous 999.
And as if it was just another basket, Johnson gave a quick nod of the head to his rival Jahii Carson, and turned around to play defense and help the No. 1 Wildcats continue their flawless season.
“It’s about honoring the process,” Johnson said. “I just caught the ball, got a good look and watched it go in; that’s all it really was.”
His 17 points led the team and carried Arizona (18-0, 5-0 Pac-12 Conference) to a 91-68 win over the Sun Devils Thursday night. But it’s what he learned over these past three years that has helped him lead UA to its current alpha status.
In his first game as a Wildcat on Nov. 7, 2011, Johnson made a statement. Coming off the bench for the then-No. 16 school in the country, the freshman scored 14 points in McKale Center against Valparaiso. His 14 points were the second most on the team behind senior Kyle Fogg, Johnson’s eventual mentor.
“[Fogg] was great,” Johnson said as he reflected on the 2011-12 season.
Fogg was a prolific scorer in his own right for the Wildcats. In his four seasons in Tucson, Fogg’s 1,341 points — an average of 9.6 per game — placed him 23rd all-time in Arizona scoring leaders.
Johnson, 46th all-time, isn’t quite there yet. But during his freshman year, he averaged nine points per game, improving it to 11.5 his sophomore season, to now averaging 16 as a junior.
“It feels good to be part of that group here at Arizona,” Johnson said.
As an upperclassman, part of honoring the process means influencing the young Wildcats, similar to what Fogg had done to Johnson.
“Johnson means so much to this team on and off the court,” head coach Sean Miller said. “If there’s another guard in the country that means more to their team, then they’re easily an All-American.”
Even when he wasn’t in the game against the Sun Devils, Johnson could be seen standing up on the bench coaching the freshmen and sophomores.
Sophomore 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski towers over the 6-foot-3 Johnson, but still looks up to him.
“We’re just trying to honor the process,” Tarczewski said. “We’ve done some pretty special things, but those are in the past.”
Thursday, Tarczewski scored 12 points and had eight rebounds. But most importantly, he stopped ASU’s 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachysnki from making one basket from the field.
Freshman Aaron Gordon finished second on the team with 16 points, and also helped Arizona win the rebound battle by grabbing six of them.
“[If] Your guards pass it and are unselfish like Johnson are, it permeates to the rest of the team,” Miller said. “Gordon has gotten better and knows how to share the ball.”
Johnson enjoys scoring 1,009 career points, but don’t expect for him to stop to bask in the glory, because continuing to honor the process is the ultimate moment to be in.
“This is our dream; we’re living our dream right now,” Johnson said. “Being the No. 1 team in the country and having a target on our backs, it’s challenge we love, and we have to keep working to get better.”
— Follow Luke Della @LukeDella