Arizona Basketball

Nick Johnson clutch in similar ways as former Arizona Wildcats conference players of the year


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WHAT IS PRODUCTIVITY RATING?:
PP: Productivity Points (Points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, FGs made, FTs made added together and then subtracted by missed FGs, missed FTs, personal fouls and turnovers)
MIN: Minutes played overall
PR: Productivity rating per minute played (Productivity points divided by minutes played)

ARIZONA 79, UCLA 75
PRODUCTIVITY RATING

* — STARTERS
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ArizonaLogo logo.UCLA

Bill Walton can get lost in thought, like comparing the creation of iTunes with Steve Alford’s innovative ways with UCLA’s scoring production, but he was succinct with one bold comment during Arizona’s 79-75 victory over the Bruins on Thursday night:

Nick Johnson is college basketball's top player, according to Bill Walton

Nick Johnson is college basketball’s top player, according to Bill Walton

Top-ranked Arizona is the best team in the nation and Nick Johnson is the Wildcats’ best player. Therefore, Nick Johnson is college basketball’s top player. The logic adds up but the national media will not fall in line with Walton’s reasoning.

CBSSports.com believes Creighton’s Doug McDermott should be the nation’s player of the year if the season ended today. NBCSports.com is in favor of Duke freshman Jabari Parker for the highest honor right now and ranks Johnson as the ninth-best player.

With Arizona apparently without a national player of the year candidate, it speaks volumes about Sean Miller’s coaching ability, doesn’t it? He has achieved unprecedented success for Arizona by this point of the season without a Sean Elliott or Jason Terry. Miller should be a coach of the year candidate right?

USA Today does not think so.

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Only one of five reporters among its “panel of experts” mentioned Miller in passing as a national coach of the year candidate Wednesday. Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg was a clear favorite, followed by Kansas State’s Bruce Weber and San Diego State’s Steve Fisher.

Does it really matter in the grand scheme of the season? Absolutely not. The only prize for Arizona that matters now, with the Wildcats vying for their fifth consecutive week at No. 1, is to cut down the nets on April 7 in Dallas. Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski, Aaron Gordon, Brandon Ashley, T.J. McConnell, Gabe York and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have put Arizona in that position.

From players No. 1 to No. 7 this is as cohesive of a unit as Arizona’s 1996-97 championship team that defied the odds by winning the title with nine losses that season.

The reason why Arizona prevailed against UCLA was not only because of Johnson. It was the valuable shooting performance of York off the bench. He answered Steve Alford’s zone defense with three critical three-pointers. If York does not connect, the complexion of the game changes and UCLA psychologically gets the edge by continuing to dare the Wildcats to shoot from outside.

York and Johnson combined to shoot 6 of 13 from three-point range. Everybody else: 0 for 5. Fittingly, York nailed the game-sealing free throws with 12 seconds remaining.

Tarczewski was also pivotal inside with Gordon in foul trouble and Ashley struggling. Tarczewski connected on all six of his field goal attempts — the hiring of Joseph Blair as the graduate assistant is obviously paying dividends — to finish with a career-high 16 points. He also grabbed eight rebounds.

Johnson certainly merits Pac-12 Player of the Year consideration especially with how he has played in Arizona’s biggest games this season, including Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion. He entered the realm of Elliott and Chris Mills with strong performances in meaningful games against the Bruins with his 22 points.

When Arizona was challenged by Washington last Saturday at McKale, Johnson responded with 24 points. He scored 23 in Arizona’s significant win over a dangerous San Diego State team on the road in November. In the victory at Michigan last month, Johnson made six free throws over the final 25 seconds to help the Wildcats rally from an 11-point deficit in the second half.

If the season continues to unfold this way, Johnson should become Arizona’s seventh Pac-12 Player of the Year following Elliott, Mills, Damon Stoudamire, Mike Bibby, Terry and Derrick Williams.

TOP FIVE ARIZONA REBOUNDING TEAMS
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PAC-12 STANDINGS
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ARIZONA BEST STARTS
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ARIZONA OVERALL PRODUCTIVITY RATING
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ARIZONA PAC-10/12
PLAYERS OF THE YEAR:
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ARIZONA AS NO. 1 TEAM
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ARIZONA SCHEDULE/PRODUCTIVITY RESULTS
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WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report, Lindy’s College Sports and TucsonCitizen.com.

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