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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Wildcats blast lowly Lions

    Zane Johnson
    Zane Johnson

    Zane Johnson walked into room 109C in McKale Center and took in the handful of cameras and about two dozen sets of eyes staring at him.

    “”Oh my goodness,”” he said, sitting down for his first ever post-game press conference.

    It’s what just about everyone else was thinking when the sophomore led all scorers with 17 points in a 84-57 victory over Loyola Marymount (0-7) in McKale on Tuesday night, providing the Wildcats (5-1) with a new threat from the outside and yet another twist for this young team.

    “”In practice I’ve just been building off good days that I’ve had,”” Johnson said. “”I knew when I got my chance out there I was going to be ready to play.””

    Johnson, who was pulled from his redshirt midway through last season, was 6-for-10 from the field and drained 5-of-9 shots from beyond the arc in 24 minutes of play Tuesday.

    Johnson’s points, minutes and assists (3) were all career highs. He scored just 14 points in 15 games last season.

    Current UA interim head coach Russ Pennell was doing radio commentary for ASU when Johnson played his first collegiate minutes in Tempe last January. His first shot missed badly and hit the side of the backboard.

    “”I remember my comment,”” Pennell said. “”And my comment was, ‘They need to get the equipment manager and help him change his pants,’ because I thought he looked scared. He’s come a long way.””

    Lute Olson said it before the season. Pennell said it earlier this week.

    Johnson just never had the chance to prove he was in fact one of the Arizona’s slickest shooters. Until Tuesday night.

    “”I think I’ve proven something, but there’s still work that I can do,”” Johnson said. “”When I feel like I’m a good enough shooter that I can’t miss when I shoot, that’s the point I want to get to.””

    But Johnson didn’t take the Lions down alone. Guard Nic Wise had 15 points, forward Chase Budinger scored 10 and forward Jordan Hill had 15 points and a game-high 17 rebounds.

    But if you ask Johnson if he’d rather have his 17 points or Hill’s 17 rebounds, he’ll tell you he’d rather take the boards.

    And because of Johnson’s performance, Hill would take the points, he said.

    “”Zane came out ready to play,”” Hill said. “”I was a little surprised, because I knew he had been getting frustrated a lot. You’ve just got to work hard in practice and keep working hard, and that’s what he’s been doing for the last four or five practices.””

    With the Wildcats up 60-33, Hill came out of the game for good with 10:22 left in the game. Budinger and Wise followed suit shortly after, giving Pennell a chance to empty the bench.

    Five non-starters saw at least 10 minutes of play each, while walk-ons David Bagga and D.J. Shumpert played for three and four minutes, respectively.

    “”We can go a 40-minute game. We’ve got the endurance,”” Hill said. “”But it did help having all our players coming off the bench, giving us a breather.””

    The game was virtually over at halftime as the Wildcats went to the locker room leading 41-24. They shot 43.8 percent (14-for-32) in the opening 20 minutes, and held the Lions to 27.3 percent (9-for-33).

    What really put the game away, however, was a 24-2 run that Wise capped off with one of his three 3s with 4:17 left in the first half to give Arizona a 35-17 edge.

    “”We did a real good job moving the ball around this game, and we just need to keep doing that,”” Hill said. “”We need to find real good shots, just like we found Zane. He was wide open and he took advantage of it.””

    Johnson, who hit a few shots from NBA range, even sparked a “”Zane John-son”” chant from the Zona Zoo section after he hit his third triple of the night 8:27 into the second half.

    The sophomore, who didn’t expect to be pulled from his redshirt under interim head coach Kevin O’Neill last season and not play at all for Olson this year, does expect his performance to only improve from here, he said.

    “”Everything happens for a reason,”” Johnson said. “”That’s why I’m here right now.””

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