Freshman point guard Mitch Johnson has been a determining force for Stanford this year, in both the team's highs and lows. His move into the starting lineup helped to free fifth-year senior Chris Hernandez into a scoring role and rhythm that was not only the best of his Cardinal career but also a big reason Stanford won eight of nine during a stretch. Johnson also maintained the top assist-to-turnover ratio on the team, ranking as one of the best in the Pac-10.
Along with recent injuries and illnesses, however, the major story the last few weeks for Stanford Basketball has been the defensive double-teams and attention that opponents have thrust upon Hernandez and senior Matt Haryasz, the team's two most important and effective offensive weapons. Opponents have fared well with the strategy as other Stanford players have been largely unable to muster any offense against the sagging or non-attentive defense. Johnson has been the most visible culprit, scoring in just one of Stanford's last five games. For the year, the freshman is averaging 3.6 points per game while shooting 31.3% from the field and 28.6% from three-point range. Johnson scores just under one field goal per 20 minutes he is on the floor.
The Cardinal coaching staff has reacted to the phenomenon, as well as some improved play from other guards, by giving Johnson fewer minutes of late. After playing 30+ minutes in each of the losses at California and Gonzaga, he has seen just 19.2 minutes per game in his last five outings. At Washington State, Johnson played the fewest minutes (18) since the December 17 game versus Virginia Tech, which was before he ascended to a starting role. Thursday night against USC, the freshman played only seven minutes and never saw the floor past halftime.
Yesterday, Stanford head coach Trent Johnson admitted that he and the staff are considering making a change and moving the freshman point guard out of the starting lineup today against UCLA. Johnson made no commitment or prediction of who could assume the vacated starting position.
"I don't want to answer that because that's something that I don't want these guys to have to read into," the Cardinal head coach commented. "I'm going to tell them when we meet: this is our gameplan going into [the UCLA game]."
Trent Johnson made no criticism of the freshman, instead focusing on how the starting lineup may best match up against the Bruins, who are alone in first place in the conference heading into this regular season finale.
"I think they're the best defensive team in the league just because they are extremely athletic - great lateral movement and great explosiveness," the second-year Stanford head man maintained. "They trust each other. Their rotations defensively are very good. And their level of toughness - if you watched them play Cal, and Cal was playing really well. 31-20 at the half, at the start of the second half you could just see it. For every guy who stepped onto the floor, it was personal to him that the guy in front of him was not going to go anywhere."
Possible players who could enter the starting lineup today, if Johnson moves to the bench, include redshirt sophomore shooting guard Tim Morris, freshman shooting guard Anthony Goods, senior point guard Jason Haas and sophomore center Peter Prowitt. Haas might be the sentimental favorite with today's game also being Senior Day, but such a move would be based solely on merit. Trent Johnson says that he has never started a senior in that situation purely for the sake of emotion or recognition. Haas did find an aggressiveness shooting the ball on Thursday, 2-of-4 for five points in just nine minutes, that has been missing most of the year.
Mitch Johnson has started Stanford's last 17 games.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website, as well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up) and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!