Without Johnson, Miami 'will be different'

WASHINGTON -- Reggie Johnson is replaceable.

But his gregarious personality may be hard to duplicate.

Johnson suffered through the losing seasons at Miami, and has been there during this season's sudden surge. And then, after Sunday's victory over Illinois -- a game that had propelled the second-seeded Hurricanes (29-6) to the Sweet 16 and on the path toward a potential first Final Four -- the school announced that Johnson was out again due to a knee injury.

Johnson’s role had been diminished a bit of late; he was held scoreless with five boards in 18 minutes against the Illini.

Still, his absence is significant.

His knee injury is severe enough that Johnson was told he couldn’t play this week, so the decision was made for him to undergo surgery, with the chance that he could return, maybe, for the Final Four.

But Johnson couldn’t travel -- and his absence was felt in the Hurricanes’ locker room Wednesday at the Verizon Center.

"It affects us on and off the court," said Miami point guard Shane Larkin. "He is a huge part of our team. He’s been supporting us. He talks to us and tells us to stay calm. He’s that type of player that would do anything for the team. Even though he’s not here, he can help us fight through adversity. He’s had the experience."

Johnson missed December's Diamond Head Classic with a thumb injury. So the Canes have experience playing without him, and while they lost to Indiana State and Arizona in Hawaii without their big man, they might be able to move a bit better offensively.

Still, against a physical team like No. 3 seed Marquette (25-8), the Canes could use an immovable force inside such as Johnson, especially if the game gets into the half court.

"We know this is going to be physical and Coach told us to prepare for a street fight," Miami senior Kenny Kadji said. "There are no rules for a street fight. We can be a physical team. Me and Julian [Gamble] and Tonye [Jekiri] are pretty big. We’ve seen a game like this before against Michigan State and did a great job of controlling the paint."

Still, Kadji concedes Johnson will be missed.

"People think twice before coming in the paint [with Johnson]," he said. "It will be different. Our guards will have to rebound. You can’t replace a guy like Reggie."

Kadji said Johnson was there to do the little things, and to push people out of the way and not allow drives to the basket.

"He could take charges and do all the little things," Kadji said. "It’s very sad, very sad for him. He’s been here five years and seen the highs and lows at Miami. It’s unbelievable that he can’t even travel. It’s hard. It’s motivation for us to get two wins to get to the Final Four."

Marquette’s Davante Gardner, who will now need to chase Kadji more on the perimeter than hunker down in the post, said he was unaware that Johnson would be out, but it still wasn't his main focus.

The Golden Eagles simply need to concentrate on getting over the Sweet 16 hump, something they haven’t been able to do the past two seasons.

That’s Marquette’s quest. Miami is on a path of its own, to continue a magical season the Canes are hoping won’t end because Johnson isn’t available.

"It’s definitely tough not having him here," Miami senior Durand Scott said. "Him not being here will motivate us. It’s hard not to see him out on the court. He’s a leader for us. But we’ll go out there and play as hard as we can to win."