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The Daily Wildcat

 

Basketball notes: Stanley Johnson has taken control of Arizona

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Arizona men’s basketball forward Stanley Johnson (5) goes up for a rebound during Arizona’s 91-65 win against Gardner-Webb on Tuesday in McKale Center. Johnson has stepped up his game over the past four games after head coach Sean Miller called out the freshman for a lack of energy.

Stanley Johnson is really starting to come into his own. The freshman forward is coming off a Pac-12 Conference Player of the Week award and has emerged as the team’s leading scorer and rebounder through seven games at 14.1 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game.

If someone would have said Johnson would be the leading scorer so far, I would have believed that in a heartbeat. Johnson’s knack for getting to the basket, his incredibly physical frame and his rapidly improving jump shot point to him getting plenty of buckets. And no one can dispute that.

If someone would have said Johnson would be the leading rebounder so far, there’s no way in hell I would have believed that. On a team with Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, there was little chance Johnson would top those three.

However, after head coach Sean Miller challenged him to rebound more early in the year, Johnson went to work on the boards. Ever since grabbing just one rebound against Cal State Northridge, Johnson has put up 10, 4, 7, 9 and 8 boards in the last five games.

“You’ve gotta respect when that happens,” Johnson said. “As long as I keep going to the boards, he’s going to be happy with me.”

Rebounding isn’t the only area that Johnson has improved in. The 6-foot-7 forward has seen an uptick in his accuracy from behind the arc. After making just two 3-pointers over his first three collegiate games, he’s made six shots from deep over the last four games, including three 3-pointers in his last game.

What looked like a weakness coming in the season seems to have changed into a strength. I can’t imagine what’s going through the minds of opposing head coaches when they watch his film.

Johnson is Aaron Gordon with a much better jump shot. Good luck to Arizona’s opponents.

T.J. and Parker finally together

T.J. McConnell and Parker Jackson-Cartwright started out the year subbing in and out for the other with regularity. Since then, Miller has been experimenting with his lineups a bit to see which players fit well with each other. His most recent revelation may be playing his two point guards together.

Due to foul trouble, the two had to play together in Maui, Hawaii, and did a solid job together. Much like what the Phoenix Suns do in the NBA, employing two point guards together speeds up ball movement and decreases stagnant offensive sequences.

In the last game against Gardner-Webb, the point guards combined for 10 points, 15 assists, six rebounds and just one turnover. If they keep playing this well together, Miller may have to permanently alter his rotations around that.

“We don’t want to be too small, but we believe in those two guys,” Miller said.

The next week is going to be huge

Up next for Arizona is Gonzaga this Saturday, Utah Valley next Tuesday and Michigan next Saturday. In the national ranks, Gonzaga is currently No. 9 and Michigan is No. 17.

In many ways, these two games against premier teams will be the measuring stick for which this Arizona team is judged. Winning both will not be easy, and the Wildcats will need to bring a more complete performance, especially against Gonzaga.

For those who have Arizona below teams like Duke, Kentucky and Wisconsin, the upcoming seven days will be key to watch.

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Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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