Q&A with Arizona's Nick Johnson: On Cats' 20 straight and what's next
Jon Rothstein chats with Arizona's Nick Johnson to get his thoughts on the Cats' 20-0 start, whether that winning streak is a distraction and what to expect on this week's trip to Stanford and Cal.
Arizona's Nick Johnson is the best player on the best team in college basketball. The Wildcats (20-0) are ranked No. 1 in the major polls, and CBS Sports Network's Jon Rothstein sat down with Johnson to discuss Arizona's impressive start, his relationship with coach Sean Miller and the Wildcats' upcoming games at Stanford and Cal.
Jon Rothstein, CBSSports.com: Your team again showed tremendous resolve Sunday night against Utah. What has allowed this unit to be so resilient time and time again this season?
Nick Johnson: I think it starts with our coach. The confidence he instills in us. The way he recruits. He gets the right guys. We all have the mentality not to give up. We knew coming into the Utah game it was going to be tough. We had to battle back and stay with it. Our first test was when we played Drexel at MSG. They had us down big and then the Duke game after that. From that point, we knew that everybody we played was going to give us their best shot.
CBSSports.com: The win against Utah brought your record to 20-0. Has there been any talk in regards to going undefeated?
Johnson: Right now we're not worried about that. You hear people talk about it around Tucson and stuff like that but it's not on our minds. For the guys returning from last year's team, we know we had a pretty good team last year but it slipped away from us pretty badly. We're just trying to take things one game at a time and understand that that's all we can do moving forward.
CBSSports.com: You mentioned last season. You were 20-2 last year but then lost five of your last 10 games down the stretch before the NCAA tournament. What's different about this year's team versus last year's?
Johnson: I think it's just the fact that we're not looking ahead. We're not looking to go undefeated. We're just focused on what's next and keeping our identity as a defensive-minded team. That's the biggest key. Always remembering who we are. Our offense may not always be where we want it to be but our defense has to be a constant.
CBSSports.com: You hit the road this week to play both Stanford and Cal. What's the biggest thing you're looking to learn about your team with this trip?
Johnson: I'm just looking to continue what we've been doing. We've had a few great road wins this season and we're looking to do that again. We challenged ourselves against San Diego State on the road earlier this season and got the win. Then we got a great win against Duke on a neutral floor at Madison Square Garden and from there we got another huge victory when we went to Michigan. We wouldn't have the confidence we have now if we didn't go through those types of experiences. We're a better road team in the Pac-12 because of our non-conference schedule.
CBSSports.com: What's it been like so far playing alongside Aaron Gordon?
Johnson: It's been great. You know what you're getting every single day from him. He didn't shoot the ball well against Utah but he had seven offensive rebounds and 12 rebounds in total. The one unique thing about him is he has no problem doing the dirty work. Getting rebounds, blocking shots, playing defense, stuff like that. He's one of the best freshmen in the country. There's no doubt about that.
CBSSports.com: Your coach, Sean Miller, is as dialed in as any coach in America in during practices and games. What's he like off the court?
Johnson: He's a laid back guy. He loves the Steelers. We always joke about the Steelers with him, especially this year because they had a rough year. He's just a cool guy. The biggest reason a lot of us came to school here is because of him and his personality. I know for me personally, the biggest reason I came to Arizona was because of my relationship with Coach Miller both on and off the court.
CBSSports.com: What's it like between you and father, Joey, when Arizona plays Arizona State? He has a pretty big legacy with the Sun Devils back from his playing days.
Johnson: I don't even really think about that, honestly. It's more about my relationship with that program. They were the first school to offer me when I was in eighth grade. Coach [Herb] Sendek and those guys have known me for a long time. But we're big rivals now. I'm an Arizona Wildcat and so is my entire family.
CBSSports.com: The easiest thing for college athletes to do is get complacent. We haven't seen that yet from your team. How have you guys as a group been able to stay locked in on the next task that's directly in front of you?
Johnson: We just try to present ourselves with different goals. Once we achieve the goals that we have, we focus on the next goal in order to stay locked in. Coming into this season, we said we wanted to be a top-10 defensive team. Then we said, could we be a top-five defensive team? And then, could we be the top defensive team in the country? Our ultimate goal is obviously to win the Pac-12 and then a national title, but until then it's all about honoring the process.
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