Arizona Basketball

Is Nick Johnson’s clutch performance the best in Arizona Wildcats’ NCAA tourney history?


[ezcol_1half id=”” class=”” style=””]

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)


[table “” not found /]


[ezcol_1half_end id=”” class=”” style=””]

Nick Johnson’s 15 points in the last 2:46 against San Diego State on Thursday will be written about and discussed as one of the greatest individual performances in Arizona basketball history for generations to come.

Nick Johnson's name will forever be discussed among Arizona's greatest clutch performances in the NCAA tournament

Nick Johnson’s name will forever be discussed among Arizona’s greatest clutch performances in the NCAA tournament

Is it the best for Arizona among its storied NCAA tournament runs?

The argument against that: Johnson was 0-for-10 from the field in the 37 minutes before he came on strong. The counter argument: 15 points and 10 clutch free throws when Arizona needed them the most is a rare feat. Arizona needed that kind of finish to stay ahead of the Aztecs, who are as good as any team the Wildcats faced this season, including Duke, Michigan and UCLA.

Johnson never let his cold shooting get him down, which is another mark of a player-of-the-year candidate. He had eight rebounds, three assists and only one turnover in 39 minutes. He also helped defend the dangerous Xavier Thames and Winston Shepard. That duo managed 36 points but they attempted 31 shots to get that many. They worked for every shot.

Johnson was put to the extreme test on both ends. San Diego State has capable defenders. The Aztecs rank in the top 10 nationally in field-goal percentage defense and scoring defense. Johnson fought his way back from an 0-for-10 performance from dire conditions.



[table “” not found /]

“When I talk about will and resolve and having a toughness about our team, it’s the willingness to take the shot and then make it when things haven’t gone your way the entire game, especially in a game like this of such great meaning,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said in the post-game press conference when asked about Johnson’s clutch performance.

Which NCAA tournament performance by an Arizona player is better than what we witnessed from Johnson in the last three minutes?

Derrick Williams’ 32-point, 13-rebound performance against Duke in the 2011 Sweet 16 ranks up there. His production in Arizona’s 93-77 win was opposite that of Johnson last night. Williams scored 25 of those points by halftime, when Duke maintained a 44-38 lead. MoMo Jones came on strong in the second half, finishing with 16 points with six assists and no turnovers.

Miles Simon had two 30-point games, against Providence and Kentucky, in Arizona’s 1997 championship run. Simon also spurred Arizona’s comeback against South Alabama in the first round that season. Much like Johnson last night, Simon did not awake in that game until the late stages. He had only 11 points, but nine came in a deciding 17-0 run after the Jaguars took a 10-point lead with 7:31 remaining.

If factoring only rebounding performances in the NCAA tournament, A.J. Bramlett reigns supreme. He had 16 rebounds against South Alabama and 15 in the next game against College of Charleston. In a monumental Sweet 16 win over No. 1 Kansas in 1997, Bramlett had 12 rebounds to go along with 12 points.

Mike Bibby made six three-pointers against North Carolina in the 1997 Final Four game against North Carolina, setting up Arizona’s national championship game with Kentucky.

Steve Kerr was also deadly from beyond the arc against Iowa in the 1988 Sweet 16, making four of his five three-pointers in the second half when Arizona turned a four-point halftime lead into a dominating 99-79 win. Kerr also had eight assists.

Sean Elliott had 31 points against Oklahoma in the 1988 Final Four, and he pulled down 14 rebounds against UNLV in the 1989 Sweet 16 — both of them losses for Arizona.

Khalid Reeves’ 29 points against Louisville in the 1994 Elite Eight helped Arizona get to the Final Four. Reeves scored all of his 17 first-half points in a 27-13 run that gave the Wildcats a 35-26 lead at the break.

Damon Stoudamire, the Arizona legend who is an assistant with the Wildcats, can relate to Johnson’s experience against San Diego State. He was held scoreless for the first half but came on strong in the second half, scoring 11 points to lead Arizona to a 82-70 win against the Cardinals.

Luke Walton had 16 points, nine assists, two blocked shots and three steals in the classic double-overtime win over Gonzaga in the 2003 second-round game. His basket with 4.1 seconds forced the second overtime.

Herman Harris’ near-triple-double against UNLV in the 1976 Sweet is hard to top. Harris had a career-high 31 points with nine rebounds and nine assists in Arizona’s 104-109 epic overtime victory over Jerry Tarkanian’s Running Rebels, who had Reggie Theus.

Harris played the entire 45 minutes. He scored 17 of UA’s last 25 points in regulation, answering every UNLV basket.

The gutsiest performance belongs to Jim Rappis, who played on one leg much of the game against UNLV after bruising his left heel in the first half. He still shot 10 of 14 from the field and had 24 points and 12 assists. When he fouled out with 40 seconds to go in regulation he reportedly received a standing ovation all of the fans, including those from the other participants at Pauley Pavilion (UCLA and Pepperdine).

It’s difficult to rate Johnson’s 15-point outburst against San Diego State in the last 2:46 as Arizona’s best performance in the NCAA tournament. That indicates the number of clutch performances Arizona players have produced in March Madness over the years.

The best in my mind is Harris’ effort against UNLV in 1976, but then again, I am a sucker for nostalgic moments dating to the Fred Snowden era.


[ezcol_1half_end id=”” class=”” style=””]

[table “” not found /]

[table “” not found /]

[table “” not found /]

[table “” not found /]


[table “” not found /] publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
To Top