Nick Johnson, ‘Cats prevail in battle of top prep guards

The Nick Johnson-Jahii Carson advanced billing lived up to the hype Saturday afternoon in Tempe as Johnson’s Arizona Wildcats pulled away in the second half and cruised to a 71-54 win over Carson’s Arizona State Sun Devils.

The former Arizona prep stars who played on the same Arizona Stars AAU team as nine-year olds faced off for the first time at the collegiate level as Johnson’s ‘Cats improved to 16-1, 4-1 in Pac-12 play.

The former Gilbert Highland High/Las Vegas Findlay Prep standout hurt the Devils from inside and out scoring 19 points on 7-13 shooting, including 2-3 from behind the arc. The Mesa High Jackrabbit Carson, saddled with foul trouble much of the game, led the Devils (14-4, 3-2) in points (22) and assists (4).

Johnson’s play certainly caught the attention of ASU head coach Herb Sendek.

“He’s a terrific player,” Sendek explained. “He’s so explosive off the dribble, he’s so athletic and they did a good job of going to him on dribble [isolations].”

The Wildcats victory also served as a bit of revenge after the Carson-less Sun Devils upset UofA in the regular season finale last year at Wells Fargo Arena.

After the game both players seemed to downplay the match-up.

“I really wasn’t worried about him,” the redshirt freshman Carson said. “He’s a friend of mine, but come game time I wasn’t worried about him. I wanted to cut his head off and I’m sure he wanted to cut off mine.”

Johnson said he and Carson talked a little bit on the floor, but winning the game was his number one focus, as well.

“After the game I just told him to keep it up,” the sophomore said. “We’re both from the same area so I want him to do well.”

Carson and the Devils will look to even the score when they travel to Tucson for the rematch on March 9th.