Arizona Wildcats freshman guard Nick Johnson averaged 22 minutes in two exhibition games, and coach Sean Miller said he needed to average 25.
Johnson played 25 minutes in Arizona’s season opener, and Miller said Johnson needed to play still more.
“Playing him 25 minutes is his starting point. I could see that even going higher,” Miller said. “We’re always in search of trying to find a way to play him more because he’s really earned it. …
“He has to be one of the best freshmen in our conference. He has just been rock solid since he came here. He has a maturity beyond his freshman year.”
Johnson had 14 points and six assists Monday night against Valparaiso. He made both of his 3-point attempts and was 8 of 9 from the free throw line. He might eventually be able to handle some point guard duties, although Miller said recently he doesn’t want to burden Johnson with having to learn two positions this early in his career.
Increased playing time likely means more three-guard lineups from Miller.
“Playing with three guards is something we have not done much of (in the past two years). Now, we’re playing with three guards, and I think as coaches we have to continue to do a better job of putting that group in a good light to be successful.”
Johnson was not made available to the local media after Monday night’s game, but he was made available to Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com.
“We understand we’ll go through growing pains,” Johnson told Goodman.
“We’ve already gone through some with the exhibition loss, but luckily it didn’t count on our record. However, it definitely counted in our minds.”
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Senior guard Kyle Fogg led the Wildcats with 16 points, making 5 of 7 shots from the field against Valpo — none of which came from 3-point range.
He was 3 of 13 in two exhibition games, after which Miller quite emphatically made it clear that Fogg, senior forward Jesse Perry and junior forward Solomon Hill needed to form the leadership core of this season’s team.
“Coach is really trying to bring out the best in all of us, and he was right. I wasn’t performing at the level I should have been,” Fogg said.
“I came out and tried to be more aggressive on offense and work on getting open shots, coming off screens harder. I think the reason we were close in exhibition games was that I wasn’t performing.”
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Perry finished with a double-double — 14 points and 10 rebounds — and those are numbers he is capable of posting every game.
Among the veterans on Arizona’s team, Perry’s effort level is the most consistent.
“He has a great way about him. He’s a leader; he’s a winner,” Miller said.
“He’s a hard-nosed kid, in a good way. He’s a tough competitor. And he has the respect of everybody in the locker room.”