UC Davis men’s basketball swingman Avery Johnson thinks last week’s 80-74 victory over visiting Air Force is good news for Aggie Nation.
“I feel like we’re definitely going in the right direction,” the junior transfer from the University of San Francisco recently told The Enterprise. “Our practices have been a lot better. Our intensity and focus on defense has improved and it’s resulting in baskets on the court and, hopefully, wins.
The Falcons came to town on Dec. 21 with a 6-4 record while the Aggies (4-9) were on a seven-game losing streak — although coming off a much-improved performance in an 87-81 overtime loss to Nevada.
Against Air Force, it was Johnson’s energy off the bench that kept the locals in the game early, then helped fuel a solid, second-half comeback.
“Avery is our utility guy,” says UCD coach Jim Les. “Whatever position he plays, I’m just grateful because he’s like ‘Hey, whatever position you want me to play …’ ”
In that win over the Falcons, Johnson played 19 minutes. On his watch, the Aggies outscored their guests 40-29. When Johnson came out of the game for good, the locals had a 74-67 lead with 47 seconds remaining.
In a game that saw UCD’s Corey Hawkins score 20 points and Ryan Sypkens get 17, Johnson set up 14 Aggie points with three assists, three steals and three deflections that became fast-break points. Johnson went 2-for-2 from the field himself.
“He’s active defensively,” Les says. “He gets his hands on a lot of balls. He’s a good, solid-IQ basketball player.
“He brings some length and athleticism to that IQ, which is really disruptive defensively.”
Johnson spent two years in the West Coast Conference, buried on the bench at USF.
He sat out last season (NCAA transfer rules) but is making his presence felt this year, especially at the defensive end.
“With Josh (Ritchart) out, I’m getting a little more work at forward,” explains the 6-foot-3 Long Beach native. “With Josh out, everybody has to do a little bit more … set up and rebound more. But we’re capable of it.”
In topping Air Force, UCD used a deliberate offense to shoot 50.9 percent from the field and stay close with the Falcons on the boards, although being outrebounded, 35-28.
If Ritchart (leg) doesn’t return soon, Les says Johnson’s role could get larger.
But for now, Johnson and his teammates just want to get better, regardless of where the credit lies.
“We’re putting in the work,” says Johnson, who was named the CIF Southern Section D-IV Player of the Year as a junior at Ocean View High. “I feel our team chemistry is definitely getting better.
“We’re on the same page as coach, things are getting to flow better and we’ve been more fluid in games.”
Johnson adds that his team isn’t going to wait around for Ritchart (16 points per game) to get healthy. There’s a sense of urgency with these Aggies. Big West Conference play starts Jan. 9 at Cal State Northridge and only nonleague games with Furman (Dec. 30) and Simpson (Jan. 2) allow for further tune-ups.
“We have to work with what we have now,” Johnson continues. “The more we focus on defense, the better we’re going to be because our offense will always be there.
“We’ve just got to get the stops. If we do that, everything else will take care of itself.”
A sociology major, Johnson says if he doesn’t play pro ball upon graduation, he’d like to be a sports psychologist.
Not a bad idea. He’s already in the head of most players he defends.
Notes: Ritchart is listed as “day-to-day” by Les and is expected to be re-examined after the holidays. His walking boot has been off but a brace still helps support his lower right leg. … Johnson is averaging 1.5 ppg in limited playing time. … Speaking of “stops:” Johnson held Southern Illinois-Edwardsville leading scorer Donivine Stewart to 9 points in the Aggies’ 80-75 victory on Nov. 22. In that game, Johnson played 32 minutes and scored a season-high eight points. … Annette and Sherman Johnson are Avery’s parents. … Furman (5-6) has spent some serious time on ESPN stations this season — with losses to 2012 NCAA tournament darling Florida Gulf Coast, Virginia Tech and Clemson all airing on the network. Game time at The Pavilion is 7 p.m. Monday.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-320-4456.