The conversation after No. 1 Arizona’s 70-64 win over No. 4 San Diego State is going to center around Nick Johnson.
He’s Arizona’s all-american shooting guard. He’s the guy that couldn’t buy a bucket for the first 37 minutes and 14 seconds. He’s also the guy that scored 15 of the final 16 points for the Wildcats, including a huge three and ten critical free throws.
He deserves the headlines that he is going to get.
But will get lost in the shuffle is just how many important plays that star freshman Aaron Gordon made in the second half that kept Arizona in a position for Johnson to close out the game.
Gordon finished with a solid line — 15 points, seven boards, two assists and two blocks — but that doesn’t do justice to the plays that he was able to make down the stretch. There was the thunderous, soaring alley-oop that he caught midway through the second half that trimmed what had been an eight-point SDSU lead down to 40-38. There was the tip-in he had on a T.J. McConnell airball that put the Wildcats up 52-50. There was the gorgeous assist that he dished out to Kaleb Tarczewski to push the lead to 54-51, setting the stage for Johnson’s finishing kick.
There were defensive rebounds that he grabbed in traffic. There were hedges that he made on ball-screens, helping to keep Xavier Thames from getting a full head of steam going towards the rim. There were double-teams that he drew and screens that he set.
He didn’t make every play for the Wildcats, but it sure seemed like he had some kind of a hand in all the important ones.
And that’s what Gordon has done all season long.
At this point in his development, Gordon is not all that skilled. He’s a capable perimeter shooter but not a great one. He’s a good ball-handler and a good passer, but not one that is good enough to be able to be a primary facilitator on the offensive end. He is, however, the best athlete left in the tournament, the best defender in all of college basketball and a guy whose motor never stops running.
In simpler terms, he’s Arizona’s best NBA prospect and he just so happens to be a prototype glue-guy. He’s the piece that brings the entire puzzle together for the Wildcats, and he showed why on Thursday night.