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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona’s freshmen may hold key to tournament run

Colin Darland
Colin Darland / Daily Wildcat Arizona freshman guard Nick Johson, 13, puts up a well-defended jumper during the second half of the Wildcats’ match-up against the Utah Utes in McKale Center on Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Arizona men’s basketball team will need to give its best effort if it wants to advance in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament in Los Angeles this weekend. A large part of that effort will need to come from the Wildcats’ trio of talented freshmen.

Freshman guards Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner have been regular starters for the Wildcats this year, but after a bad game against ASU on Sunday, head coach Sean Miller said he’s looking for them to bounce back.

“There’s a lot of reasons we didn’t win that game, but they did not play well, that’s for sure,” Miller said. “They played well in other games, maybe not as a group, but one or two of them have.”

Turner and Johnson were pegged as the freshmen duo early this season, given their playing history and a chemistry that developed from Turner’s laser passes and Johnson’s ability to get up and finish at the rim. Lately though, Johnson’s scoring has been inconsistent. The freshman sandwiched a two-point performance at Washington State between posting 18 points against Utah and 20 at Washington. Johnson has only scored a total of 17 points in the last three games and has had eight turnovers.

Johnson and Turner have scored in double figures together once during conference play, but scoring isn’t Turner’s greatest strength. He had a breakout game against USC where he had 15 points, six assists and no turnovers. Miller is hoping for much of the same in Los Angeles.

“(The freshmen need to) take care of the basketball and just be solid,” Miller said. “Be consistent throughout that 40 minutes. That’s really important for us to have any success.”

Miller added that Angelo Chol will need to come off the bench with a sense of confidence if he wants to contribute. If, as expected, Arizona faces UCLA first, Chol’s height will be needed.

Johnson has struggled against UCLA this season. He notched five points, six rebounds and two assists. Turner has been more effective, tallying 17 points, 11 rebounds and three assists combined in two meetings.

Miller knows what he’s going to get from the team’s veterans, but right now the freshmen are the X-factor. If they play well, it could seriously bolster the Wildcats’ chances in the conference tournament.

Miller added that each player reacts differently to new situations, but this late in the season, and with Arizona’s NCAA tournament hopes depending on winning the conference tournament, it’s time for the freshmen to step up.

“The bigger the game, the bigger the stage,” Miller said. “There’s some point in their freshman year, when you play close to 30 minutes, where you can’t call them freshmen. They’ve played in so many games, so many minutes, at practice the number of times, you’d like to think they’re responsible and ready to go and that’s our hope.”

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