Johnson gets defensive at Utah State (Basketball)

January 19, 2011
Jenna Johnson

Just like back in the day, Jenna Johnson’s fingerprints were all over a recent victory by the Utah State University women’s basketball team.

The 5-foot-10 starting guard out of Wasilla High scored, rebounded and played hard in an 81-69 victory over Nevada.

But she also brought something new to the court – a defensive attitude, which resulted in a career-high 6 steals.

“I’m basically a defensive player this year, but that’s OK,” Johnson told me.

It’s a new role for Johnson, a perennial 20-point scorer in Alaska. But she’s adjusting just fine.

“I love it,” she said. “We already have scorers so that’s not me right now. It might be next year. It might be my senior year. Right now I’m like the defensive stopper.”

Just because she focuses on defense doesn’t mean she doesn’t look for her own shot from time to time.

The sophomore averages 5.8 points and 2.4 rebounds to along with 2.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game. She has been in double figures a few times, highlighted by a career-high 12 points against South Dakota State.

Yet her main objective is defense. And she’s realized that getting stops is just as gratifying as getting buckets.

“It’s so weird too because in high school I didn’t really think about my defense,” she said. “I was just an offensive player. In college it’s so different.In high school I was so much bigger than everyone and so much stronger than everyone, and here, it’s like ‘OK, now I’ve got to find other ways to get it done because I’m not as strong.”

Johnson, who just turned 20, credits her high school coach Jeannie Herbert-Truax for preparing her for the next level.

“Having her as a coach I think is what got me to the college level,” she said. “Even when I was dominating in high school she was still challenging me. She would make me think about the things that I needed to work on.

“I totally have to give her some props for that.”

After riding the bench as a freshman, an experience that drove her nuts, Johnson went into overdrive in an attempt to crack the starting lineup. Finally she got the nod, splitting minutes with fellow sophomore Devyn Christensen.

“We’re both kind of the same, but I’m defense she’s offense,” Johnson said. “It’s tough keeping it but every day you have to come to practice like you’re still working for that.”

But as hard as they go at each in practice, Johnson insists there is no animosity between the two guards.

“All of us are such good friends. My teammates, those are the people I hang out with. I couldn’t ask for better teammates,” she said. “When it’s time for basketball we’re the worst enemies, but off the court we are the best of friends.”