The 6-9 freshman has played sparingly this season after undergoing three knee surgeries in six months. He redshirted last season during the Cardinals run to the Final Four, and figured to be a much larger factor on the court this season. But U of L coach Rick Pitino has brought Johnson back slowly from injury.
But with starting center David Padgett out for the rest of the season with his own knee injury, Pitino inserted the burly Johnson into the starting lineup against DePaul in a key Big East game for the Cardinals. Johnson didn't disappoint with his play.
Though he played only 15 minutes, Johnson scored five points and grabbed seven rebounds. He also blocked a shot. Noted as a gifted rebounder coming out of high school, Johnson didn't sound very impressed with his team-high rebound total in the locker room after the game.
"I wanted 10," Johnson said. "I'm not satisfied unless I get double digits on the rebounds. I just like getting rebounds."
Though Johnson might not have been impressed with his performance, his coach found much to like with his effort.
"I thought that Brian…played terrific tonight," said Pitino. "Johnson is a good offensive rebounder because he is so long. If he gets positioned inside he plays the ball up. He did an excellent job. It was a wonderful game for him."
Best of all for Johnson is that he's now playing pain free.
"I think coach has more confidence in my knee and I can tell that my movement out there is a whole lot better than it was earlier in the season," Johnson said. "I've still got a ways to go because sometimes I can't get off the floor."
"There's no pain," Johnson continued. "I've just got a little tendonitis. It gets a little stiff after games, but there's no pain."
Johnson said the main thing he needs now is to build up the strength in his legs.
"I can tell it's going to get better," Johnson said of his knee. "The doctor said the tendonitis will ease up a little bit, and I don't have any pain in my knee. That's a good thing. It's just about strengthening my legs right now."
Louisville guard Taquan Dean summed up Brian Johnson this way after the Cardinals fifth league win.
"Brian Johnson is all heart," he said.
With three games remaining, the Cardinals are fighting to secure a bid to next month's Big East Tournament at New York's Madison Square Garden. A win at West Virginia this Saturday would provide a big boost to their chances.
"Hopefully we can win three and get to 8-8," Johnson said. "We're definitely trying to win 2 out of 3."
DEAN BREAKS WHEAT'S CAREER THREE-POINT RECORD
Taquan Dean broke DeJuan Wheat's mark for most three-pointers in a career. Dean hit 2-8 three's against DePaul, giving him 325 for his career. Wheat made 323 from 1994-97.
So what went through Dean'smind when No. 324 went through the basket?
"That doesn't mean anything," Dean said. "I was worried about getting the win. This is my last season. I've got to try to reach the post-season."
FARLEY TURNS IN SOLID PERFORMANCE
6-10 sophomore Terrence Farley turned in another solid performance. Farley's improved play over the past few weeks has been easily noticeable, and his effort against DePaul last night was a big reason the Cardinals came out with a win.
The Louisville native played 23 minutes, finishing with 7 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Despite playing less than 7 minutes per game this season, Farley still ranks second on the team with 15 blocks. "He could be the leading shot blocker in the country," Dean said.
Farley said he believes he could become much like the energetic Otis George.
"I think I can be like an Otis George off the bench and give the team a spark," Farley said.