Arizona Wildcats Beat New Mexico State Aggies on the Road


Rollin’ With The Pac
Erik Ortiz

Looking at the Arizona Wildcats this week after a tough and gritty win against the New Mexico State Aggies in Las Cruces, it would be easy to have a lot of negative analysis. Let me tell you why that isn’t the case. The Wildcats have a long road before they get back to the NCAA tournament–before they can even think about anything “sweet” or “elite”. It’s a game like this one that is very important to play before facing any Pac-12 foes. Coach Sean Miller has to figure out what he’s working with, and fast, because the Pac-12 might have seemingly bad records to this point, but the season will surely bring a lot of tight games within the conference. Keeping in mind how much work Arizona has to do to get where they need to be, let’s look at last night’s highlights.

Last night can be summed up with one number: thirteen. Yes, the freshman Nick Johnson, number 13, had a coming out party last night in his first start under Coach Miller’s lineup finagling. Johnson had 19 points and 2 assists with zero turnovers in his time on the court. On the surface this may seem like nothing special but that just isn’t true; he got his first start and he took full advantage. It wasn’t just the points he scored but also when he scored them. Johnson had several crucial back-door dunks and drove the lane at key points in the game. Best of all, no turnovers in 34 minutes on the court. By contrast, Jordin Mayes and Josiah Turner combined for 7 turnovers in their 38 minutes on the court. Johnson also hit a couple of huge 3 pointers at key points in the game. You can expect to see Johnson in the starting lineup as long as he continues to play like he did last night.

As Nick Johnson establishes the Wildcats’ offensive identity early this season, he compliments the typically awesome play of Jesse Perry. Perry will have to continue to be the solid, go-to guy this year until the team can grow and others can pick up some of the slack. Perry had another double-double last night and he has been Arizona’s most consistent player so far this year.

A huge key to the Arizona’s success against the Aggies’ aggressive press defense was their ability to move the ball around and find the open shot. Arizona had 19 assists last night, which is key for a team that will have to rely heavily on the jump shot this year. Once the jump shot opened up, this forced New Mexico to come out and apply more pressure, which in turn opened things up in the paint as well. It will be a key throughout the season not to rely too heavily on the 3 ball. Patience on the offensive end and finding the open man will keep them versatile on that end of the court.

Playing in the very hostile Pan-Am Arena was a precursor of things to come for the Wildcats, more importantly their reaction to such a crowd is what was most impressive. They didn’t get flustered at all throughout the game. Though they got off to another slow and shaky start, Arizona maintained their composure to come back and keep it tight throughout the last ten minutes of the first half. The second half was tight and despite opening up a 10 point lead, the Wildcats stayed under control when that lead dwindled to nothing. Johnson, Perry, Solomon Hill, and Kyle Fogg kept their cool and didn’t let the intimidating atmosphere get to their heads down the stretch.

The Wildcats have plenty to work on before their matchup against Northern Arizona University on Saturday. They may struggle a bit during the upcoming gauntlet of non-conference games next week (Florida, Clemson, and Gonzaga), two of which are on the road in harsh environments. They need to continue to work on their inside game and work on their offensive identity while not giving up on the defensive end. This team is growing before our very eyes, however, and will be very competitive in the Pac-12 Conference. The question is if they will grow quickly enough to avoid getting behind in conference play. One thing is for sure: in Miller we trust!