The Huskies’ freshman gave UW what its coach said was “the best, quality minutes” of his freshman season Thursday night in the win over Oregon. Johnson’s parents will be at Alaska Airlines Arena again Saturday at 2 p.m. when the Huskies (12-8, 4-3 Pac-12) host Oregon State (11-7, 3-3).
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Veletta and Eugene Johnson made the trip from Northern California this weekend to see their son Darin play during his freshman season for the Huskies.
Chalk one up for parental intuition.
Lost amid another wowing shooting performance by C.J. Wilcox on Thursday night, which included the game-clinching 3-point shot from far beyond the arc that coach Lorenzo Romar and other were still discussing Friday: Johnson had his finest game yet for Washington during its 80-76 victory over Oregon.
The 6-foot-5 guard from Sacramento had seven points in 14 quality minutes. He had three rebounds, a steal and many instances of being at the right place for the team. Thursday was a marked improvement over his first two months of his UW debut, in which he admits he was perhaps a bit too self-absorbed to see his role off the bench in the entire, team-wide scheme.
“He probably gave us the best, quality minutes of the year, given the circumstances -- big, Pac-12 game,” Romar said. “He had a big, impactful game for us.”
With Wilcox’s 23 points and 5-for-6 shooting from 3-point range appropriately stealing the attention, it was easy to miss the fact that Johnson’s only 3-point attempt of the game broke a tie with 12:17 remaining. It wasn’t rushed or ill-advised as many of his one-on-three drives were earlier this season. It came 15 seconds into the shot clock. And it was a wide open look from the left wing.
Those were his first points of the game. He gave the Huskies a lead they never surrendered.
“That built confidence and told me, ‘Darin, settle down. You are in it – and just play,’” he said of his first 3-pointer in seven conference games.
His burst of scoring in the second half against the Ducks was a glimpse of what made him ESPN.com’s 25th-ranked shooting guard for the last recruiting year out of Sacramento’s Sheldon High School. It was also a glimpse of UW’s opener in November when Johnson scored 16 points in a season high-tying 29 minutes.
Yet he admits he wasn’t thinking as globally or unselfishly then as he did against Oregon Thursday.
“I feel like mentally wise that was probably my best game,” he said. “Struggling the first half and then second half doing what I’m supposed to do to help the team win -- instead of going out there and thinking about yourself.”
That is what Johnson did too much early in the season. He would get the ball outside and be in such a hurry it looked as if he was trying to score 10 points on one play. Whether there was one defender or four in his way, whether it was part of the offense’s intent or not, he was often driving and shooting.
As for having mom and dad here for the second time this season, the freshman had a big grin over that.
“It’s a big plus that they’re here, just talking to them after the game,” Johnson said.
Veletta and Eugene will be inside Alaska Airlines Arena again watching Johnson on Saturday, when Washington (12-8, 4-3 Pac-12) hosts Oregon State (11-7, 3-3) beginning at 2 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks television, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with another live chat and free streaming audio.
Johnson’s parents are used to road trips. Darin’s father is retired. His mother has a job that allows her travel.
And they have plenty of games to see. Darin’s sister Gena is a senior point guard at Pacific. She was second-team All-Big West last season for the Tigers of Stockton, Calif., south down Interstate 5 from the family home in the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove.
After playing 20 or more minutes nine times in the non-conference schedule, Darin Johnson hasn’t played more in Pac-12 action than the 16 minutes he had in the win over No. 15 Colorado on Jan. 12. His minutes have decreased as he’s gone from being a de facto small forward when Desmond Simmons was recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery into late December back to his natural guard spot, albeit behind Wilcox.
After a confidence boost against Oregon, Johnson could end up having an enhanced role as a second outside-shooting threat for the Huskies by the time the Pac-12 tournament begins March 12 in Las Vegas.
He’s already gotten a taste for the league’s competiveness through his first seven Pac-12 games.
“It’s way different than the (non-conference) season games,” he said. “You can feel that every possession counts. The intensity’s higher. Players are getting after it. You want to win. This is the time for the NCAA tournament, so people are pushing it.”
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Saturday’s game will match the league’s two top scorers in Oregon State senior Ricardo Nelson at 21.7 points per game and Wilcox, who is at 19.9. While many expected names like Jahii Carson of Arizona State or Nick Johnson of top-ranked Arizona to be leading the conference’s scoring race by now, Romar isn’t surprised Nelson is No. 1. Nelson has 27 career 20-point games. “He’s talented. He can score. It’s not a shock.” … Washington’s 3-point shooting defense, which had been holding Pac-12 foes to 12 percent from bonus range until California and Stanford were hot out there against the Huskies last week, will get a test Saturday. The Beavers lead the league in 3-point field-goal percentage at 51.1 percent. Nelson is making 53.6 percent of his 3-point tries. Romar said the keys remain the Huskies’ abilities to: 1. Deny dribble penetration and thus cutting off kick-out passes from the lane that often find wide-open, stand-still shooters beyond the 3-point line; and 2. Switch quickly off ball screens and jump out hard on the perimeter shooters that spot up off those picks. … Romar’s day-after marveling of Wilcox’s 3-pointer with 44 seconds left that put UW up 4 on Oregon included him pointing out Wilcox made the 24 footer elevating after standing still without dribbling, and with his wrong shooting foot forward until just before he jumped. “It was a phenomenal shot,” Romar said. “It was a special shot.” Which reminds us of what Wilcox said after the game: “I expect to make all my shots.” … Wilcox needs nine points to become the seventh Husky ever to reach 1,700 points for a career.