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For just over a minute against Louisville, Kentucky thrived with supersized lineup

Dakari Johnson played an integral part in a massive Kentucky lineup that mixed up the Wildcats' 73-66 win over Louisville on Saturday. (Photo by James Penningtin)

Dakari Johnson played an integral part in a massive Kentucky lineup that mixed up the Wildcats’ 73-66 win over Louisville on Saturday. (Photo by James Penningtin)


As it has been chronicled in every corner of the Internet in some way or another, one thing you can’t teach is size, and Kentucky has a lot of it. The usual starting lineup stands has three players standing 6-6 (Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison and James Young), 6-9 Julius Randle and 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein. Even in basketball terms, that’s quite tall—if you ran into those five walking together on the street outside a basketball context, it would be very tall—but it’s not the tallest combined lineup John Calipari throws out there.
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Once this season, a lineup replacing Aaron Harrison with 7-foot Dakari Johnson played 4:32 together, and that’s tied for the tallest lineup that’s played together anywhere in college hoops this season at 405 inches. Those five didn’t play together against Louisville, but a lineup one inch shorter did, and it played a significant part in building momentum early after the Cardinals scored the first eight points.


With 15:20 to play in the first half and Louisville leading 10-5, Johnson subbed in for Randle. That substitution left the following five on the floor for Kentucky:


6-6 Andrew Harrison
6-6 James Young
6-8 Alex Poythress
7-0 Willie Cauley-Stein
7-0 Dakari Johnson


Louisville’s lineup at the time was considerably shorter:


5-10 Chris Jones
6-1 Terry Rozier
6-6 Luke Hancock
6-6 Chane Behanan
6-9 Stephan Van Treese


The Wildcats used this lineup for 1:11 of game-time. Rick Pitino made two substitutions during that 1:11—6-0 Russ Smith for Jones, and 6-10 Mangok Mathiang for Van Treese—so the lineup out there was considerably shorter than Calipari’s at each position.


With Kentucky’s huge lineup on the floor, Louisville had two full possessions—Aaron Harrison came in for Poythress in the middle of a Louisville possession during which Poythress picked up his second foul—and Kentucky had two. Those possessions are detailed below:


Louisville possession No. 1: Nine seconds in to the shot clock, Rozier takes a reasonably open 3-pointer at the top of the key. It bricks off the back of the rim, and Poythress rebounds.


Kentucky possession No. 1: Johnson sets a pick for Harrison right of the top of the key, and Harrison goes the pick-and-pop route. He makes a 17-foot jumper. In the paint, Johnson is waiting for a rebound while being boxed out by Rozier. The play takes 13 seconds of clock from beginning of end to possession.


Louisville possession No. 2: With Behanan controlling the ball at the top of the key, Cauley-Stein and Johnson are sucked 10 feet from the basket. Hancock sprints past his defender in the corner, Poythress, and cuts toward an open basket. Behanan’s pass is too aggressive and rolls out of bounds untouched. It takes 12 seconds.


Kentucky possession No. 2: Johnson comes up again to set a pick for Harrison on his defender (Rozier) at about 19 feet, and Harrison goes around Johnson toward the basket. He drives, spins and absorbs a foul from Van Treese (who Johnson left behind to set the pick). Harrison makes the shot and then the free throw, and Mathiang replaces Van Treese. The play takes 18 seconds of shot clock.


Louisville (half-)possession No. 3: Poythress is called for a foul working through a double screen in the lane 15 seconds into the shot clock, and he subs out with two fouls. Aaron Harrison replaces him with 14:09 to play.


On all three of Kentucky’s defensive possessions during the 1:11, the Wildcats pressed. Louisville pressed, too, as it always does. CBS analyst Greg Anthony compared the two presses as such during the sequence:


“Kentucky’s press, Jim (Nantz), they utilize it to slow you down. Louisville uses it to speed you up. Because if they can slow Louisville down and make them play more 5-on-5, it’s going to be really difficult for them in the half-court to create offense.”


On the two full possessions of Kentucky’s overwhelming size, the Wildcats outscored Louisville 5-0. The Cardinals committed one careless turnover during the stretch, and their other offensive possession ended with a missed 3-pointer that may or may not have been their best option nine seconds in to the shot clock.


Part of what hindered Louisville’s offense Saturday was all the different looks Kentucky’s defense threw at it, not allowing Russ Smith to find a consistent rhythm that typically comes with consistent floor spacing for a player like Smith that thrives when given open floor to work with.


For 1:11 of game-time Saturday, the Wildcats threw a look at Louisville that no team in the country can replicate, and the Wildcats generated easy half-court offense—five points on pick-and-roll option plays for the point guard—at the same time. It’s not a lineup Calipari will use often, but its effectiveness deserves an earmark.

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