First year player Xavier Johnson put forth a senior-like performance in Colorado’s 71-58 upset victory over No. 9 Arizona and at times he was the best player on the court. Johnson was the leading scorer at halftime with 12 points and finished the game with a career high 19 points to go along with nine rebounds.
Johnson is getting better and better each game and the scary thing for Colorado opponents is that he’s expanding his arsenal. At the beginning of the year his game was the mid-range and in transition but he’s starting to pick up confidence from beyond the arc. He’s not evolving into a pure three point shooter but he’s greatly improved and it showed against Arizona as he tied a career high with four three’s on just five attempts.
The freshman has been a bit inconsistent on the road but there is no denying his comfort level at home. In Johnson’s last three home games he is averaging 16 points on 19-of-27 FG shooting and hitting over one-third of his three point attempts. After scoring 18 points in Colorado’s last game in Boulder he eclipsed that by one against Arizona and he was the catalyst in their upset. He didn’t get all of his points from cheap shots either as time after time he would big time shots, which is something his coach loves.
“Xavier made a big time shot off of Spencer’s dish,” Colorado head coach Tad Boyle said postgame after their upset. “The game was down to six, it was a big shot and he didn’t hesitate either.”
You can see from each performance the confidence that Johnson is gaining and it’s coming at just the right time for Colorado. The Buffs can be considered the hottest team in the Pac 12 right now having won six of their last seven games including two upsets in their previous three games. But perhaps the biggest plus for Colorado, as the final few weeks of the season arrive, is the fact that four of their final six games come at home, a place where they are 10-1 this season.
Johnson may not get the amount of recognition he deserves as a freshman in the Pac 12, with guys like Shabazz Muhammad and Jahii Carson dominating the freshman of they year talks, but Arizona coach Sean Miller thinks Johnson is right up there.
“I thought Xavier Johnson was great; he probably doesn’t get enough national recognition. I’m not so sure he’s not the best freshman in our conference,” Miller said after Arizona’s loss on Thursday. “If he’s not, he should be certainly put up there with the three or four others that everybody acknowledges.”
Boyle has to be pleased with the way his players played against Arizona and seeing how much Johnson has been progressing since the beginning of the year is very encouraging for the future of Colorado basketball.
Colorado didn’t get the benefit of the doubt in Arizona but they left no doubt the second time around.
David LaRose is a College Basketball writer for Rant Sports covering the Pac 12 and the University of Colorado. He’s also a member of the USBWA. You can follow him on Twitter or check out his Facebook page.