Source of UK’s competitive spirit? ‘You’re fighting for minutes’ every day
In addition to any inclination to adopt the casual Caribbean lifestyle, Kentucky had other reasons to live and let live in Sunday’s finale of its exhibition series.
The Wildcats were playing their fourth game in five days, so perhaps the zeal shown here would be on dim. Plus, no matter how effectively UK played, it promised to pale next to Saturday’s exquisite rout of Mega Bemax.
But inside Kentucky’s 93-60 victory over Team Toronto was an unmistakable step forward for one player.
Reid Travis, whose earlier struggles here would probably move UK Coach John Calipari to remind everyone that players are not robots nor computers, posted a double-double.
Travis scored 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. Perhaps a further indication of his growing comfort as a UK player, he made not one but two three-pointers.
It’s probably not entirely accurate, but the three-pointers could be viewed as part of Travis’s transition from bully ball to ballet.
“Just trying to be more athletic, being a lot quicker, running faster down court,” he said. “It’s subtle changes that seem to the fans normal adjustments. But, for me, it’s really a transition from how I’ve played my whole career.”
Kentucky wants Travis to leap to catch lobs, beat the opposing “bigs” down court for transition scores.
This is new for a celebrated graduate transfer who excelled to the tune of two-time All-Pac 12 with muscle.
“At Stanford, I could rely on just brute force ...,” he said. “That’s still something I’ll have to do from time to time when the game gets mucked up a little bit.”
Travis shrugged off the struggles, especially with shooting around the rim, in earlier games here. “Nothing that I was sweating too much,” he said.
Calipari had cited the habit of gathering himself, bringing the ball down to guard level, before going up for the shot. That won’t work against the good teams Kentucky plays, Calipari said, and it won’t work in the NBA.
The transition from bully ball to ballet will not be a unbroken upward climb, Calipari said. There will be fits and starts.
“Anytime there’s any kind of pressure, you’re going to revert to what you know best,” the UK coach said he told Travis. “That’s what he knows best right now because we haven’t coached him.”
The process began in the pre-draft period when Travis worked to show NBA teams he had an improving perimeter game. It has continued at UK, where he said he’s lost about 25 pounds through diet and running, especially running.
“It’s about trusting something that I don’t have as many reps in,” Travis said of working to play the way UK wants him to play. “I’ve done things a thousand times in my life before. This is fresh, so for me to really have blind faith and really trust it ..., that’s the biggest thing for me.”
As for the game, the opening minutes enhanced the anticlimactic feel. A shot clock malfunction forced three stoppages of play inside the first 30 seconds.
UK’s first possession fizzled thereafter when Keldon Johnson shot an air ball from the left corner. That resulted in a shot clock violation.
What better way to say this game would differ from what assistant coach Joel Justus called UK’s “elite performance” in dismantling Mega Bemax less than 24 hours earlier?
Team Toronto scored the game’s first points. Normally, there would be no news there. But the 2-0 score marked UK’s first deficit since the second half of Wednesday’s game against the Bahamas Select Team.
Quade Green’s shooting seemed to kick-start Kentucky. His two three-pointers and a baseline jumper came within two minutes and pushed UK to a 15-6 lead.
The early lead crested at 18-6. Then more oddities. Nick Richards picked up two fouls within 48 seconds. One came on a push-off as he tried to establish offensive post position. The second came while defending the post and sent him to the bench for the final six-plus minutes.
Despite having three fouls, Tyler Herro fueled a 19-4 run in the final 4:19 that gave Kentucky its 39-19 halftime lead.
Herro picked up his third foul with 3:24 left. He stayed in the game and scored seven of his 10 first-half points in that span.
Travis, who came close to a double-double in the half (nine points, 10 rebounds), contributed a putback and two free throws off a rebound of a missed free throw.
Travis assured himself of a double-double with 16:51 left in the second half. He hit a foul-line jumper that put Kentucky ahead 48-24.
Travis’s two three-pointers came inside the final six minutes.