BOULDER, Colo. – If Colorado beats Arizona on Saturday and students race all over the floor, the way ESPN analyst Digger Phelps sees it, more power to them.
And to the rest of the university.
During a media interview today in advance of ESPN GameDay’s Colorado appearance Saturday, Phelps said he’s strongly in favor of court-storming – even as the SEC imposes fines against schools whose fans do it and as Arizona is considering asking the Pac-12 to also consider a penalty after the Wildcats saw Cal and ASU fans do it earlier this month.
“The SEC – oh, you can’t rush the court because it’s a $25,000 fine or a $5,000 fine (for a first offense) – please,” Phelps said. “You know what you do? At your 20-year reunion you’re going to talk about it. And some student who is now a multi-, multi- millionaire says, `Yeah, I’m going to give $20 million for the school to build a new science department.’ Based on him rushing the floor 20 years ago. That’s what that is.”
In a wide-ranging discussion, Phelps also said freshmen Aaron Gordon is better off fouling out now (as he did at Utah for the first time this season) instead of in the postseason.
He also said guard Nick Johnson “took on too much himself” in the wake of Brandon Ashley’s injury.
“In that Arizona State game he was 5 for 20,” Phelps said. “I think he’s got to pull back and say, `Hey look at what Colorado’s doing, when you see five guys in double figures on the road at Southern Cal (an 83-74 Colorado win last week).' That’s what I think Nick’s gotta do, and the rest of their guys.”
After Arizona beat Colorado 69-57 last month at McKale Center, Xavier Johnson predicted a “20-point blowout” in Saturday’s return game.
Not surprisingly, my request to interview Johnson today was unsuccessful.
“Sometimes kids say things that come right out of their mouth… and we’re all guilty of this to some degree," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "But with Xavier, I’d rather rein him in than have to get him going.”
Sounds like Boyle, then, is hesitantly embracing Johnson's swagger.
“I‘m not saying it’s a good thing but he’s a guy who can take his game to another level,” Boyle said. “He enjoys challenges, enjoys big games and I’d like him to feel like that every time he steps on the floor, not just for UCLA or Arizona.
“But I’d rather have a guy who can rise like that. He enjoys challenges and he’s a competitive young man and we’re going to need him to play well. I want him to be hungry and humble.”
A sophomore out of Mater Dei – who was recruited by the Wildcats until Gabe York committed -- Johnson is averaging 16.0 points in four career games against the Wildcats so far.
“He’s a really good player, and we respect him a great deal,” UA coach Sean Miller said. “I just think he’s a good player, period. With his physicality on the offensive glass and his ability to make threes, he’s tough to deal with.”
Miller said when Johnson plays small forward – which is possible now that Colorado forward Wesley Gordon is almost fully back from an ankle injury – the Buffs have a frontline similar to the one UA had with Ashley.
“They’re every bit as physical and every bit as good a rebounding team as they were with (Spencer) Dinwiddie,” Miller said. “That’s maybe something they’ve emphasized even more because maybe they’re not playing as fast and some of their players in the game now are physically bigger.
“When Xavier Johnson plays the small forward that’s a lot like who we were when we had Brandon, Aaron and Kaleb, so they really do a phenomenal job rebounding on offense and defense.”
Since the Wildcats flew to Colorado directly after their Wednesday game at Utah, they’ve had two full days to hang out in Boulder and practice. Miller said the Wildcats had non-contact drills on Thursday for a little over an hour and held a regular practice today at the Coors Events Center.
“We’re so late in the year that the more accustomed to the environment we are, the better off we’ll be,” Miller said, saying it’s the Buffaloes more than the atmosphere that the Wildcats have to worry about Saturday. The crowd has been great “in other places we’ve been this year, too. In Utah, that was a great crowd the other night.
“So our guys are pretty much used to that. In terms of playing Colorado, they’re a really good team. We have to be at our best.”
Miller said again today he will probably start York over Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, giving UA the potential for more outside shooting.
“I think so,” Miller said. “We have to get a better feel for it. It could go the other way. But either way, Gabe’s role and Rondae’s role are both significant. It doesn’t matter who starts as much as who would be the best for our team” at the start of a game.
Luke Walton will be Arizona's inductee this year into the Pac-12 Hall of Honor.