UK Men's Basketball

Notes: Dakari Johnson performs big in limited minutes versus Bulldogs

Kentucky center Dakari Johnson hit all four of his shots against Mississippi State, scoring eight points in eight minutes.
Kentucky center Dakari Johnson hit all four of his shots against Mississippi State, scoring eight points in eight minutes. Herald-Leader

Kentucky's 85-63 victory over Mississippi State on Wednesday included an element of the rich getting richer.

In getting off to a good start in Southeastern Conference play, the Cats used this season's calling card: size. UK just had more of the size thanks to freshman Dakari Johnson.

Johnson, who had scored three points in UK's six most recent games, contributed eight points in eight minutes against State.

"Big game for him and his confidence," said assistant coach John Robic, who substituted for UK Coach John Calipari in the post-game news conference. "It's a big game for the team having (another) 7-foot, 265-pound player in the middle."

Johnson, one of six McDonald's All-Americans in UK's freshman class, acknowledged the difficulty of limited playing time.

"It's been tough," he said with a smile. "I'm so used to playing all the time. But, you know, it's humbling."

Robic pooh-poohed any thought that Johnson is a bit more polished as a low-post offensive threat than starter Willie Cauley-Stein. Each brings different approaches to the task: Cauley-Stein quicker and more "bouncy"; Johnson with less lift, but a relatively smoother move.

"We feel comfortable throwing either the ball," Robic said. "... You just can't throw lobs as high to Dakari."

Randle contained

State succeeded in containing Julius Randle, who failed to score in double figures for the first time this season.

"We call it '31,'" Coach Rick Ray said. "That means every time he catches the ball, he sees three people: A man guarding him, a man to the left and a man to the right."

Randle, who scored eight points, had an impact by grabbing 14 rebounds (the most for him since he got 15 against Cleveland State on Nov. 25).

When asked how Randle should combat the collapsing defenses, Robic said, "If they're going to send two or three, he has to sacrifice himself for the betterment of the team."

Teammates did a better job in the second half of getting into position and being ready to shoot from the perimeter once Randle passed, Robic said.

False impression

Ray lamented how the final margin did not reflect how well his team competed. State trailed by three with less than 13 minutes left.

"I thought we really competed," he said. "No one will know that because of the final score. That's the one thing we have to get past. We just don't deal with that adversity right. If we're ever going to grow as a team, we're going to have to fight that adversity. I think it's a shame that people are going to turn on SportsCenter tonight and they'll see the final score and think it was a blowout."

A team denies itself a chance to be "reputable," Ray said, "when you just lay down and die when you have adversity."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader