At halftime of Saturday’s matchup against Houston, Shanice Johnson and the Cincinnati Bearcats walked into the locker room trailing by a single point against the Cougars. Johnson had been rather subdued in the first two quarters, a rarity for the 5’11” junior from Philadelphia. Struggling to find her shot, she had managed just four points on 2-of-8 shooting and had only four rebounds to boot.
While we’ll never know exactly what happened during halftime, its clear that a switch was flipped for Johnson, who terrorized Houston in the last two quarters. She scored 17 points, ripped down eight rebounds, handed out five assists and collected three steals. That stat line would be good enough for an entire game let alone a half. With Johnson leading the way, the Bearcats ran away with an 85-64 victory to improve to 11-5 overall and 2-1 in American Athletic Conference play.
On a team with more than one talented leader, Johnson is at the top. Her production this season has been outstanding, as she is flirting with a double-double for the year, averaging 14.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. She ranks second in the conference in rebounds and is in the top 15 among AAC players in field goal percentage (.472). The 21-point, 12-rebound effort she put together against Houston was her seventh double-double of the season, although her first since Dec. 15 against Georgia. Despite doing most of her work in the paint, she has shown some range as well, knocking down 41.7 percent of his attempts from three-point range.
Her defense has also been top notch as she is second in the league in steals per game (2.7) and the league’s leader in blocked shots (26). She has had at least five combined blocks and steals in four of the last six games.
Johnson’s ascension can be tied to a nice piece of recruiting from head coach Jamelle Elliott. Johnson was a McDonald’s All-American nominee at Cardinal O’Hara High School in Philadelphia but enrolled at Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York. She dominated the NJCAA DII ranks, carrying Monroe to a perfect regular season in her lone year on the team. Along the way she picked up honors as the NJCAA DII and Region III National Player of the Year to go with a first-team All-American nod.
As we pointed out earlier this week, UC is making big ripples in the AAC this season. In fact, its 11 wins already exceeded its total from last season and the year before that, with the Bearcats winning all of eight games in each campaign.
With the big bad wolf (or Huskie) of UConn still dominating the AAC and the women’s college basketball landscape as a whole, the Bearcats still have a steep climb ahead of them, but with Johnson, they at least have a player who can hang, nay, dominate in the paint. That might not be enough to topple the Huskies, but it could be enough to get UC into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003.