Kentucky-Tennessee notes: Dakari Johnson makes timely contribution

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 18, 2014 

Conveniently, Dakari Johnson ascends as Willie Cauley-Stein descends.

That coincidental pattern continued with Kentucky's 74-66 victory over Tennessee on Saturday.

Johnson filled the void created, in part, by Cauley-Stein again. He scored four points, grabbed four rebounds and helped Kentucky contain Tennessee's one-two inside punch of Jarnell Stokes (20 points, 15 rebounds) and Jeronne Maymon (12 points, five rebounds).

"He did a great job on Jarnell," Julius Randle said of Johnson. "He was kind of able to be physical with him and kind of limit him a little bit on the rebounds."

As a wobbly colt steadily finding his legs, Johnson is no bruiser. But at 265 pounds, he can give Kentucky a presence.

In the last four games, Johnson has scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, Cauley-Stein has gone dormant. He went scoreless for the first time this season Saturday and grabbed three rebounds in 19 minutes. Earlier in the week at Arkansas, he had two points, six rebounds and five fouls in 18 minutes.

"Well, Willie didn't play as well as he'd been playing, and we went with Dakari," UK Coach John Calipari said of the victory over Tennessee. "And he was terrific."

Like most freshmen, especially big men, and even McDonald's All-Americans, Johnson needed time to make the transition from high school to college.

"You adjust during practice and during the game," he said. "I have just been trying to do that and do what I am supposed to do. I just executed as I was supposed to. I tried to mix it up and be physical."

Said Calipari: "He was behind Willie. ... Not a whole lot of minutes there. Now Willie is not playing as well. Now you ... prove you should play more."

Johnson acknowledged the difficulty in sitting and waiting for an opportunity.

"My mom told me to listen to the coaches and get better," he said. "I have been trying to do everything exactly as I am supposed to do it."

Although a free spirit (recall the electric yellow hair of earlier this season), Cauley-Stein is no rebel. Calipari lauded how he takes personal responsibility for a less-than-productive game.

"He's owning his performance," Calipari said. "And he did. I'm proud of him."

Stokes excels

In four previous games against Kentucky, Stokes made only 11 of 29 shots (37.9 percent), and averaged 6.5 points and 6.0 rebounds. He put his 20-point, 15-rebound game Saturday in the context of proving he could produce against taller defenders.

"I wanted to trust my craft," he said. "Guys say I struggle with length. I feel like guys with length struggle with size. That was my mindset coming into this game. I would rather be mobile than long."

Stokes said he weighs about 20 pounds less this season. So he's moving better. That combination of nimbleness and still-considerable bulk (6-foot-8, 255 pounds) allowed him to greatly impact the game.

"I've made myself into more of a machine, running the floor," Stokes said. " ... I'd rather take a big, mobile body over a tall guy."

UT Coach Cuonzo Martin noted Stokes' aggressive approach.

"He was hungry ... ," Martin said. "Whenever he plays aggressive, he is a totally different basketball player. ... I thought Jarnell did a great job attacking the glass, being aggressive, being assertive, imposing his will."

Stokes, who played and roomed with Randle on a USA U18 team, denied that going against UK's heralded freshman stoked his competitive fire.

"Julius Randle is legit," he said. "That's how we've been playing all season."

No rematch

Martin lamented that there will be no rematch in Knoxville. Because of Southeastern Conference expansion and an unbalanced schedule, Kentucky and Tennessee play only once this season.

"I'd love to play them," the UT coach said. "It's just unfortunate. Hopefully, as a league, we can figure something out so we can play Kentucky every year (in Knoxville)."

No Hood

Calipari volunteered regret that he did not play Jon Hood.

"Jon has had the greatest attitude and the greatest approach," the UK coach said, "and has grown so much in the time he's been here. I just see him as, what do you want to do? Do you want to get into coaching?"

Etc.

■ Randle equaled a career high with four assists.

■ Stokes posted his ninth double-double of the season. That moves him one ahead of his girlfriend, Isabelle Harrison, who has had eight for the Lady Vols. Boyfriend and girlfriend are the leading scorers and rebounders on their respective teams. Stokes' double-double was his third in four SEC games.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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