(Photo credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)
Keshad Johnson, a fifth-year senior transfer, has provided an early energy boost to No. 3 Arizona, which takes on Belmont on Friday night in Tucson, Ariz.
Johnson, who helped San Diego State reach the national title game last season, leads Arizona (3-0) in scoring and rebounding through its faststart to the season, which includes a 78-73 victory at Duke on Nov. 10. Johnson is averaging 15.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.
"He scores the ball pretty easy, and a lot of it is based on effort and energy, which is an incredible skill to have as a basketball player," said Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd. "He's got great effort and energy, so it's a joy to coach him every day."
Johnson was known more for his defensive presence with the Aztecs - he averaged 7.7 points per game last season -- but he is flourishing in an up-tempo attack and running the court to get easy baskets in transition, just like his predecessor at power forward, Azuolas Tubelis, did with the Wildcats.
"Everyone has a lot of respect for him," Arizona's Pelle Larsson said of Johnson. "He plays really hard, so that's going to affect everyone on the team to do the same."
Even after playing Duke, Arizona's nonconference schedule is filled with more marquee matchups - Michigan State, Purdue, Alabama, Florida Atlantic. But the Wildcats shouldn't be sleeping on Belmont, which has posted 13 consecutive 20-win seasons.
Belmont was picked to finish fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference in a preseason poll by the league's coaches, sports information directors and media.
The Bruins (2-1) lost 99-76 at Furman on Nov. 10 but bounced back to bury Berry 93-59 on Tuesday. Belmont shot 56.9 percent from the field but committed 16 turnovers.
"We had a better collective 40 minutes, which is what we talked about and wanted to see," said coach Casey Alexander, who improved to 100-31 with the Bruins. "There are no perfect games in the basketball world, but we were a lot more intentional about having good possessions on both ends of the floor for the entirety of the game.
"The turnovers were the biggest negative of the night. A lot of those were drives into traffic trying to do too much. But when we kept it simple and shared the ball and played together, we got some really good shots."
Belmont is led by Caxe Tyson, who was last season's Missouri Valley Freshman of the Year. He is averaging 19.0 points per game. Ja'Kobi Gillespie is at 16.7.
Arizona has a deep and balanced roster that is averaging 99.0 points per game with six players in double-figure scoring. Kylan Boswell is at 13.3 points per game, and Larsson is next at 12.7
The Wildcats have been hot from the outside, hitting 25 of 61 3-point attempts (41.0 percent). They had such a big lead Monday night in an eventual 97-59 win over Southern that Lloyd didn't have to play his starters for the final 11:32.
"I think our top eight guys are willing to sacrifice a few of their minutes and stats for those guys to get experience because they practice against them every day and they know how hard they're working," Lloyd said.
--Field Level Media