Notebook: Johnson hurts ASU on both ends

2013-03-10T00:00:00Z Notebook: Johnson hurts ASU on both endsPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 10, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The lasting image from senior day at McKale Center will have nothing to do with framed jerseys, proud parents or Ooh Aah Man Joe Cavaleri, or with band members and cheerleaders who've run out of eligibility.

It will be Nick Johnson, on a fast-break pass from Solomon Hill, dunking over ASU's Carrick Felix early in the second half and then telling him about it.

Close your eyes, and you can see it as the Arizona Wildcats' poster next year.

"Everybody loves a dunk," Johnson said. "It was great for the crowd, great for me. I got excited, maybe picked up my defense a little bit."

"Bunnies" Johnson was energized in Saturday's 73-58 rivalry win against Arizona State, going 6 of 11 from the field with two three-pointers and three free throws to lead the UA with 17 points. He added four rebounds, three assists and three steals.

"Nick was one of the best players on the team, if not the best player in the game today," UA coach Sean Miller said. "He did it on both ends.

"That's the Nick that's played with us for just about the entire season."

That's a compliment.

Miller has called the sophomore guard the UA's best player in the early part of the season. In the month of February, though, Johnson struggled. He made only 17 of 47 shot attempts, and struggled defensively in losses to Cal and Colorado.

ASU allowed Johnson to shoot jump shots. He responded by making two three-pointers for the second time in as many games. Before the UCLA contest one week earlier, though, he had gone 11 games without making more than one.

"(Johnson) is an energy type of guy," said ASU point guard Jahii Carson, who had 15 points. "Some games he has good games, some games he has off games, but the energy he creates enables them to get out and get an advantage on us."

Johnson guarded Jonathan Gilling, the Danish forward who scored only three points on four shot attempts, and later switched to Carson.

Gilling said Johnson "always plays good against us," especially on defense.

"I think Nick is clearly one of the premier defenders in our league," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "He's clearly a top, first-team all-defensive player in the Pac-12."

Sloppy

Entering Saturday, ASU had averaged 12.3 turnovers per game. Against the Wildcats, the Sun Devils coughed the ball up 17 times.

"Turnovers in this game were very crucial," said ASU senior wing Felix, who posted his 12th career game with 20 or more points. "I think they scored on just about every one."

The UA scored 21 points off turnovers, to ASU's 13.

"If we cut down those turnovers by two or three a half," Carson said, "then I think it's a different story."

The Wildcats had 12 more rebounds than the Sun Devils, including 10 more on the offensive glass.

ASU 7-foot-2-inch center Jordan Bachynski snared one rebound in 27 minutes.

"We actually had a higher field-goal percentage," Sendek said. "But with 17 turnovers and the disadvantage that we endured on the boards, it was not a good combination."

Rim shots

• After going 1 for 8 in his first matchup against the Wildcats, Felix led all scorers Saturday with 22 points on 6-of-9 shooting.

He and Carson combined for 37 points, including 30 of ASU's first 40.

"Both those men gave us everything they had," Sendek said. "I couldn't be more proud of them."

• Miller didn't make a substitution until 7 minutes 21 seconds into the game, but said that was a function of the first media timeout coming late. He did not play forward Angelo Chol or guard Gabe York at all.

• Carson's 154 assists are the most by a Pac-12 freshman since Arizona's Jason Gardner had 162 in the 1999-2000 season. He is 10th on the league's freshman assists list, but has averaged more points per game than any of the nine above him.

• Bachynski blocked three shots and is now two short of the Pac-12 record, set by ASU's Mario Bennett is 1994-95.

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