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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Wildcats basketball earns ticket to New York City

Ryan+Revock+%2F+The+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0AUA+junior+guard+Nick+Johnson+jumps+to+dunk+the+ball+against+Rhode+Island+Tuesday+at+the+McKale+Center.++Arizona+defeated+Rhode+Island+87-59.%0A%0A
Ryan Revock
Ryan Revock / The Daily Wildcat UA junior guard Nick Johnson jumps to dunk the ball against Rhode Island Tuesday at the McKale Center. Arizona defeated Rhode Island 87-59.

Wildcat fans were treated to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” over the loud speakers after defeating Rhode Island 87-59 on Tuesday night in the second round of the preseason NIT Season Tip-off.

With the win, the tournaments’ top-seeded Wildcats advance to the semi-final round of the NIT in New York City at Madison Square Garden. However, the trip might not have happened if it wasn’t for junior guard Nick Johnson’s career game.

Johnson helped carry No. 5 Arizona (5-0) to the win over the Rams (4-2) as he finished the game with his first double-double as a Wildcat after a slow start.

“For the first eight minutes we weren’t a cohesive team,” said head coach Sean Miller. “I wouldn’t call it selfish, but more ‘my turn’ kind of shots. That never works.”

Johnson recorded 20 points and 10 rebounds but also ignited the spark with a three-pointer midway through the first half that got Arizona out of an early slump.

Arizona took a 13-6 lead and returned to a more complete team that moved the ball and played team defense. From that point, the Wildcats coasted to the 28-point win.

“Nick is becoming a complete player,” Miller said. “He’s becoming an all-conference player. He’s on a similar track Solomon Hill was on.”

Miller noted how much his second year starter has matured and how he’s improved so many facets of his game. But it’s his ability to restrain how much energy he exerts on defense that has improved his offense.

“It’s something we’ve really worked on this season,” Johnson said.

But Johnson said his rebounding and passing is what has him most excited about this season.

“If I get a rebound that kills one pass that I have to make to our point guard or guards,” Johnson said. “I’ve been trying to do that a little more because it gets us out into our transition a little faster.”

Another bright spot for Arizona was the production of bench man Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. For the third straight game, the freshman brought great energy off the bench for Miller.

Hollis-Jefferson contributed with 13 points in 22 minutes.

“He’s almost like a starter off the bench,” Miller said. “I don’t think there’s been a time where he’s entered the game and something hasn’t gone our way.”

Miller and Arizona will need Hollis-Jefferson to continue his production off the bench, because the lights at Madison Square Garden shine a little brighter than at the comfortable McKale Center the Wildcats are used to.

While the pressure may be a little more intense, it shouldn’t be a problem for Arizona, as many of the Wildcats have already played at the historic arena. Between high school showcases and prior Arizona games at Madison Square Garden, most of the Wildcats aren’t new to the big stage of New York City.

“The thing about traveling east and playing games at that setting is that it will only prepare for the games that remain on our schedule,” Miller said, “especially the away games and the tournaments.”

On Nov. 27, Arizona will play Drexel (3-1), who upset the fourth-seeded Rutgers on Tuesday night, 70-59. If the Wildcats defeat the Dragons, they will either play No. 6 Duke or Alabama for the championship game on Nov. 29, once again at MSG.

“Who wouldn’t want to play at MSG?” Johnson asked. “It’s the biggest stage in basketball.”

—Follow Luke Della @LukeDella

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