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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Defense, Johnson spark win against Clemson

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Colin Darland
Colin Darland / Daily Wildcat

Thanks to suffocating defense and balanced scoring on offense, Arizona never trailed from the opening tip and defeated Clemson 63-47 in McKale Center to move to 7-3 on the season.

“I thought today was our best win of the season and our best performance to date,” said head coach Sean Miller after the game. “Our defense is getting better and we had a lot of contributions from different guys.”

One game after limiting Florida to 41.2 percent shooting 7-for-26 from three, the Wildcats held Clemson to a 31.7 percent clip and a season-low 47 points.

The Tigers missed nine of their first 10 shots and until a late push to cut the deficit to seven with 4:30 to go, could never shake past the Wildcats’ perimeter defense.

Arizona held Florida guards Kenny Boynton, Bradley Beal and Erving Walker to a combined 9-for-36 on Wednesday, and that trend continued Saturday afternoon. Clemson guards Tanner Smith, Andrew Young and TJ Sapp shot a combined 8-for-28 from the field.

While Arizona’s team defense is improving, both Miller and Solomon Hill credited Kyle Fogg — eight points, seven rebounds and three steals — for the team’s stellar defense.

“That’s on Kyle Fogg. I think we would be in a terrible situation if he weren’t on the team,” Hill said. “He takes it personal when he gets on the floor, no matter who it is that he’s guarding. He just goes out there and plays his hard out. Without him we wouldn’t be where we’re at right now.”

Miller said Fogg is developing into an “excellent defender” just two years after he was “really bad” on the defensive end. But it wasn’t only Fogg and Arizona’s defense that earned what Miller called the Wildcats’ best win of the season.

Freshman Nick Johnson, who moved back to shooting guard after starting at point guard against Florida, gave Arizona a huge lift with 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting.

Johnson threw down three monstrous dunks – one over 7-foot-2 center Catalin Baciu, one off an out-of-bounds alley-oop from Kyle Fogg and another in transition off of a no-look pass from Josiah Turner to help cap off an 8-0 run that allowed Arizona to survive a late scare from the Tigers.

Johnson claimed he didn’t have a favorite dunk as he said, “they’re just dunks.” But Miller was a little more outspoken about Johnson’s play.

“I wouldn’t trade Nick for any freshman in the country, not just because of how he plays the game but who he is as a person, how hard he works,” Miller said. “He’s such a team guy. I trust him a great deal.”

Johnson wasn’t the only Wildcat to have a big game, however. Hill continued his solid play as he
racked up 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and six assists.

While his stat-line is impressive, it doesn’t show how important Hill was to Arizona sealing the deal against the Tigers. After Arizona built an 18-point lead, Clemson went on a run and cut the lead to 49-42 with 4:30 to play.

Miller called a timeout and Hill decided to take matters in his own hands. He isolated on Arizona’s next two possessions and scored back-to-back buckets to give the Wildcats an 11-point cushion.

“Solomon, he just really made his mind up. He made it up in a positive way in that the two that he took were really great shots for us,” Miller said. “He’s certainly a number of guys that we want to give the ball to in big situations. Those are two big plays. He’s really playing very well for us right now.”

The Wildcats didn’t look back after Hill’s four-point spree as they fended off a solid Clemson squad to pick up their seventh win of the season. Arizona will now have a week to prepare before it takes on Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., next Saturday.

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