Stanley Johnson played the best game of his career on Saturday and attributes much of it to his effort level.
“I think what made me so effective today was playing harder,” Johnson said. “I feel like on this team and especially this program if you’re playing defense and you’re locked in on the defensive end, balls will just fall to you on the offensive end. I think when I play locked in on defense, offense comes easier.”
Johnson’s effort on defense was contagious, as Arizona seemed to be focused from the tip.
“We were really focused today,” Johnson said. “Everything we worked on in practice, we had a great scout team that went through all of their stuff really well and gave us a real game look.
“I think we were just focused from Kaleb’s job of plugging to getting into the Michigan line on the help, whipping screens, and all of the type of things like that. I think we did a great job of staying focused on almost every possession.”
One of the reasons that the Wildcats came out focused is because they believed Michigan would be more dangerous coming off of two losses.
“I think our team felt like they were kind of cornered in,” Johnson said. “They have a couple losses, but we respected them and thought they were going to come out and try to get a great win in McKale.
“We respected them a lot and we were super focused from the start. We didn’t want to drop one.”
Not only did Arizona defend well, but it put together one of its best offensive games of the season as well.
“I think today any time we can get Kaleb easy layups and they start having to double him, it makes everything a lot easier,” Johnson said. “When you have to double Brandon and Kaleb on the block, once we establish that inside, we start working outside and people have to close out.
“We have Gabe and Elliott making threes and Rondae and I driving to the basket on closeouts, it makes things a lot easier. It started today with Kaleb and Brandon getting the ball inside and finishing.”
Of course, it also helps when Arizona is able to get off to a fast start.
“We make an emphasis on starting the game strong,” Johnson said. “It puts a lot of pressure on the starting five.
“He tells us before every game to come out strong and get some points on the board and get some stops. We just do what we do and honor the process every day and that’s what happens.”
It’s not easy to keep high intensity throughout a blowout, but that is exactly what Arizona did on Saturday.
“Michigan shoots the three so well that they are only three or four possessions out of the game and they can make three or four in a row and now it’s a game again,” Johnson said.
“Coach Miller made an emphasis on us coming out strong. We break up the game into wars and he said we need the sixth war and I think we ended up winning it 12-0 and from there on we wanted to build.
“When we start smelling blood like that, we try to keep kills coming. When we can get out after a defensive stop and run, we are at our best.
“I don’t think many teams can really get back fast enough with our size, athleticism, and shooting to prepare right for our offense if we can get stops on the defensive end.”