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Cats win one for Willie

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Dakari Johnson, stepping in for the injured Willie Cauley-Stein, had 15 points in UK's Sweet 16 win over Louisville. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Dakari Johnson, stepping in for the injured Willie Cauley-Stein, had 15 points in UK's Sweet 16 win over Louisville. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS -- With its best defensive player hobbling to the locker room and the team down 13 points, the Kentucky Wildcats had a choice on Friday night with their postseason lives on the line: retreat or win it for Willie.

Willie Cauley-Stein, the anchor of UK's defense, suffered a left ankle injury at the 13:05 mark of the Cats' Sweet 16 game vs. Louisville. It's unclear how Cauley-Stein injured his ankle, but after he limped off the court, down the tunnel and to the locker room on one foot, Cauley-Stein never returned to the game.

Instead of folding, the Wildcats (27-10)  rallied back. When they saw him on the trainer's table at halftime and learned he wouldn't be back, they decided to win one for him.

"We were pretty sure that he wasn't coming back at all," Jarrod Polson said. "We all shook his hand and were all kind of saying, 'We got this for you.' "

And win for him -- 74-69 over archrival U of L -- they did.

Throughout the second half, Kentucky played with a spark on both ends of the court, even without their leading shot blocker.

Offensively, Julius Randle's right-on-the-money assist to set up Aaron Harrison's 3 put the Cats in the lead 70-68 with 39 seconds remaining. Dominique Hawkins' smack talk and pit-bull like presence helped contain Russ Smith. Without Cauley-Stein's threat at the rim, Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress stepped up, snagged some key rebounds, and in Poythress' case, blocked a huge shot.

"Just tried to imitate him," Poythress said on playing without Cauley-Stein. "It's hard to, with the great shot blocker he is. We just (had) people who could do it. Me, Julius, Marcus Lee off the bench doing it too. We just gotta try to win for him."

Back in the locker room, as his teammates came back without him, Cauley-Stein was his usual energetic self, Calipari said.

"The doctor told me he was absolutely going bonkers in the locker room for game, like for the team, cheering," Calipari said. "They had to hold him down. He was going crazy."

The extent of Cauley-Stein's injury is still unknown.

"It's not a good ankle injury," Calipari said. "Let me just put it that way."

If the injury is as bad as Coach Cal feared in the early hours of Saturday, the Cats will need Dakari Johnson to rewind and replay his performance against the Louisville Cardinals.

Johnson scored a career-high-tying 15 points, two of which came from a monstrous dunk that won't soon be forgotten.

"We didn't really know he could do that," Andrew Harrison said. "But Dakari is a great low-post player. He's hard to guard. He played with a lot of energy."

Johnson, playing a career-high 31 minutes in Cauley-Stein's absence, also posted six boards and three steals.

Calipari was pleased with his ability to draw "and ones."

"Dakari played well today," Coach Cal said. "That 3-point play, that made free throw, that was huge. That just kept eating in their lead to where we could get it close."

To bring you more expansive coverage, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be joining forces for the postseason. You can read the same great stories you are accustomed to from both sites at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.


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CONGRATULATION GUYS!!!! What a great effort from all of you! You make us soooo proud!!! Best wishes to Willie for a speedy recovery! GO CATS!!!!!!!!!!

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  • Jeri: CONGRATULATION GUYS!!!! What a great effort from all of you! You make us soooo proud!!! Best wishes to Willie for read more