As Reid Travis got in place for Friday’s interview session, it was impossible not to notice the scratches and bruises on his arms and shoulders. These literal battle scars seemed to serve as evidence of his willingness to play a physical style around the basket for Kentucky this season.
“It’s a part of it,” he said. “Just try to fight for rebounds.
“On defense, just grind it out. ... Just battle. That’s the biggest thing. If I can just show I can anchor the defense from the back, just battling and making those tough plays, it’s going to help our team.”
That sounded a lot like the description of the Reid Travis who played at Stanford. During UK’s trip to the Bahamas in August, he called that style “bully ball.”
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A question: Didn’t Travis come to Kentucky as a graduate transfer to diversify his game and show the NBA an improved perimeter game?
“I don’t know if it’s a resurgence of that,” he said of his days as Stanford’s strongman. “But I do feel comfortable down there. ... It kind of helps us be successful on the offensive end if I can get those looks.”
More than once against North Carolina last weekend, Travis scored by being fouled. That brought to mind John Calipari’s call for UK players to try to score around the basket rather than simply seek to draw a foul.
“Just being more conscious of when you get the ball, just go straight up,” Travis said. “If they foul you, they foul you.”
As for showing the NBA more agility, Calipari said that Travis was making more plays — dunks and rebounding — above the rim. “Things people said he couldn’t do,” the UK coach said.
Calipari and Travis credited this above-the-rim presence to better conditioning. Travis said the payoff in stronger, springier play had shown itself in “flashes” during earlier practices.
“There’s been a lot more flashes lately,” he said.
PT for EJ
Against North Carolina, freshman EJ Montgomery was the odd man out in Kentucky’s attempt to stuff four players in its preferred rotation of three “bigs.” Earlier, Calipari had suggested that Montgomery could get minutes at small forward.
“The guy I’ve got to still figure out where and how and how much is EJ,” said Calipari, who pointed out that Montgomery had a busy two minutes against UNC (two points, one rebound, one turnover and one foul). “I didn’t feel comfortable playing him at ‘three.’”
Travis credited Montgomery with keeping a good attitude.
“The biggest thing for him is just staying the course ...,” Travis said. “His work ethic hasn’t dipped in any way. He’s doing everything right. He just needs a little more opportunity. And once he does (get that opportunity), I think he’ll really play well.”
Travis acknowledged that it can be difficult for a five-star recruit ranked by some in the top 10 nationally to be patient.
“At the end of the day, that’s why you come to a program like this,” Travis said. “You understand there’s competition. You understand it can be your time one game, and somebody else’s time the next game.”
The North Carolina game was Nick Richards’ time. His six rebounds (in 10 minutes) were the most he’d had since getting 19 against Southern Illinois on Nov. 9. He also blocked two shots (most since three on Nov. 28).
Why did Richards play well?
“Effort and energy,” Calipari said. “If he runs that court and he blocks shots and rebounds, the other stuff really doesn’t matter, especially how he’s being evaluated (by NBA scouts).”
Something to watch for
Kentucky gets to the foul line a lot. Going into this weekend, UK ranked 12th nationally in free throws attempted and 34th in free throws made. UK has made more free throws (229) than its opponents have shot (167).
Louisville also has made more free throws (261) than its opponents have shot (220). U of L ranked sixth nationally in free throw attempts and second in free throws made.
The victory over No. 9 North Carolina last weekend was UK’s first against a team ranked in the top 10 since winning at No. 7 West Virginia last season (Jan. 27). ... Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas and sideline reporter Dan Dakich will call the game for ESPN2. Game time is 2 p.m.