Stanley Johnson will tell you what’s on his mind. He doesn’t feel the need to hold back.
The Fullerton product made it clear to the Los Angeles media that he wasn’t back home this week to see his friends, he was here to help Arizona win and go to the Final Four.
"We lost in the Elite Eight. I watched it happen last year," the former Mater Dei High School (Santa Ana, Calif.) standout said after the Wildcats’ 85-78 loss to Wisconsin. "I didn’t come here to play for second place, third place — I came here to play for the championship. We lost the game and didn’t get to the championship or the Final Four."
Johnson’s appreciation for transparency showed through late in the second half of Saturday’s Elite Eight game at the Staples Center.
With 4:13 remaining and the Wildcats desperately trying to defend Badgers big man Frank Kaminsky, Johnson swatted the ball as Kaminsky went up to the rim, but a foul was called — his fourth.
Johnson, a freshman, threw his hands up, they came to rest on his head. Incredulous as he walked past the row of photographers on the baseline over to press row, he wanted the media to hear his message: "That’s the worst foul call I’ve ever seen in my life."
Kaminsky hit 1 of 2 from the line and the Badgers went up nine.
"I thought it was a clean block," said Johnson, who finished with six points and two rebounds — he averages 14 points and 6.6 board. "In my opinion, that was the worst call of the season, I felt like. But things happen. I’ve had worse calls called on me, but this was the most critical time ever in my career so far."
The cameras caught the outburst, which he says was not an emotional reaction. He felt the need to convey exactly how he felt.
In the grand scheme of the loss in the NCAA West Region final, that one foul might seem insignificant. But in the final five minutes of a game where everything is on the line, every misstep is crucial.
"This is the Elite Eight, this is worth all the chips for the Final Four," Johnson said. "I go to the basket a billion times, we go to the basket a billion times as a team. I didn’t hit him, I hit the ball at first, if anything. He’s aware of where he’s supposed to be. This is a physical game and you call a foul under the basket when I’m by myself under the basket making a play like that? I figure you just let it play."
"But then again, you don’t get control of those calls."
There was very little clarity, literally and figuratively, throughout the game for Johnson. He took a shot to the eye late in the first half. He came back in the game, nothing would have kept him from doing so, although it was a little more difficult with blurred vision.
"If I could have gotten a new eyeball, I would have gotten a new eyeball," Johnson said. "I was going to give it a go regardless of what happened or whether or not I could see anything. I wasn’t going to sit out and watch my team lose. I’m not any sort of soft type of person. If I can do something on the court — rebound, defend — there’s always something I can do out there."
But there was little Johnson could do following that fourth foul, and he was changed with his fifth less than a minute later.
"I’m just sitting here praying, hoping that we can get some shots to go in, some stops," he said. "That’s about it."
The nature of the tournament is cruel. A team comes so far to be rewarded with nothing. The deeper you advance, the more devastating a loss becomes. But this game, right in his own backyard, felt especially cruel for Johnson.