Since Tuesday night, the most-often asked question in the Big Blue Nation might be this: How long will Kentucky strongman Reid Travis be sidelined?
After Reid underwent a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam on the right knee he sprained at Missouri, UK said on Wednesday that the player was expected not to play for at least two weeks.
The player’s father, Nate Travis, said his son accepted this timetable.
“He sounded very positive about that,” the elder Travis said Thursday. “He felt possibly the Florida game. So he felt pretty good that he was going to be getting back.”
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Kentucky plays Florida in the annual Senior Day game on March 9. The elder Travis said he spoke to his son Tuesday night.
“Really good spirits,” he said of his son’s mood. “He’s all right.”
Nate Travis described the rehabilitation as a few days of rest followed by exercise in a pool to maintain cardio fitness.
The elder Travis said he was watching the telecast of the game. He termed the injury in which an attempt to rebound sent teammate Keldon Johnson falling into Travis’ leg an example of happenstance.
“One of those things,” Nate Travis said. “Right place, wrong time, I guess.”
If an injury must occur, the player’s father saw several upsides to his son spraining a knee at Missouri.
“It didn’t happen in the (NCAA) tournament or anything like that,” he said. “So he’s got time to heal. Come back fresh and ready to play.”
With UK’s season beginning more than seven months ago with training for the August trip to the Bahamas, Nate Travis said being sidelined represented “a good chance for him to sit back and reflect a little bit and appreciate the game a little bit more.”
And Travis’ mother, Jackie, planned to come to Lexington and spend time with Travis this weekend, the player’s father said.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas downplayed the long-term consequences of Travis possibly sitting out two weeks.
“It shouldn’t be too big a deal,” Bilas said before adding, “It’s never easy to be out for any length of time. It’s a rhythm-disrupting thing.”
Earlier in the week, UK Coach John Calipari and associate coach Kenny Payne said that the sidelining of Travis creates opportunity for Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery to play more minutes.
Going into the Missouri game, Travis led Kentucky in rebounding in Southeastern Conference play (7.5 rpg) and averaged 28.6 minutes.
“So those minutes are going to have to be taken up by guys who may find something,” Bilas said of Richards and Montgomery. “It’s an opportunity for them to be more confident and valuable contributors.
“It’s certainly not a good thing. But there’s opportunity there that Kentucky can take advantage of.”
On his radio show Wednesday night, Calipari said that PJ Washington alone had to bear the responsibility to be a physical presence while Travis is sidelined. UK had no other player capable to “go rough house” in a game, Calipari said.
“Well, he’s already shown it” at times, Bilas said of Washington being an imposing physical presence. A moment later, the ESPN analyst added, “He doesn’t have to be Reid Travis. He can’t be two physical presences. He can only be one.”
Coincidentally, Kentucky’s next opponent — Auburn on Saturday afternoon — has been vulnerable to teams with physical big men. When Kentucky won 82-80 at Auburn on Jan. 19, the Cats enjoyed a 38-24 advantage in points in the paint.
Auburn, which is synonymous with three-point shooting, made 16 shots from beyond the arc at LSU. But LSU outscored Auburn 38-18 in the paint and won 83-78. “We knew the focus tonight was second-chance points for LSU, to keep them off the boards,” Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl said after that game. “We didn’t do a very good job of that. A lack of physicality was a factor.”
South Carolina’s Chris Silva scored a career-high 32 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked four shots in an 80-77 victory over the Tigers. After that game, Pearl said, “People have been trying to go inside on us without Austin Wiley.”
Wiley, a 6-foot-11, 260-pound junior, has played in five games since being sidelined much of the season because of a lower leg injury. He sat out last season when ruled ineligible by the NCAA in the wake of an FBI investigation of corruption in college basketball recruiting.
The rust has shown. In the five games he’s played, Wiley has totaled 38 minutes, seven points and eight rebounds.
With Travis sidelined, Kentucky will look for Richards and Montgomery to join Washington in creating a telling difference inside.
“Sometimes players need to be needed,” Bilas said, “and they accomplish more when they’re needed. And guys are going to be needed now.”
Auburn at No. 4 Kentucky
When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday