John Clay

Kentucky is winning, but it still needs a healthy Reid Travis

How is Kentucky basketball playing heading into the postseason?

Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari talks to the media after his team’s 66-57 win over Florida on Saturday, March 9, 2019. at Rupp Arena in Lexington. UK finished the regular season 26-5 overall and 15-3 in the SEC.
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Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari talks to the media after his team’s 66-57 win over Florida on Saturday, March 9, 2019. at Rupp Arena in Lexington. UK finished the regular season 26-5 overall and 15-3 in the SEC.

All things considered, it hasn’t gone badly.

Kentucky has won four of its five games in his absence, the one loss coming on the road against a top-10 team with a revenge motive. And Saturday, Senior Day, the Cats rallied to defeat Florida 66-57 and close out the regular season as the No. 2 seed in next week’s SEC Tournament.

Still, UK needs Reid Travis.

“Do you guys know Reid Travis is on our team?,” UK Coach John Calipari jokingly poked at the media in his postgame press conference Saturday, and not for the first time. “You guys do know that, right?”

We know, we know. The 6-foot-8 graduate transfer from Stanford by way of Minnesota has been out since he suffered a sprained knee on Feb. 26 at Missouri. At his diagnosis, the time frame for recovery was listed that the power forward would be out for at least two weeks, with an outside chance he could be back for Senior Day.

That didn’t happen. Assistant coach Kenny Payne told the media on Friday that Travis was scheduled to start doing some work on a basketball floor, but the actual time stamp on his return was TBD.

There was nothing medically new to report Saturday, other than Travis stood in his sweats as his teammates warmed up, then watched from the bench as Tyler Herro scored 16 points, PJ Washington added 15 and Ashton Hagans and Keldon Johnson chipped in 14 points each as UK ran its record to 26-5 overall and 15-3 in the league heading to Nashville.

“If he plays, I’ll be doing backflips,” Calipari said Saturday. “If he doesn’t play, we’ll just figure it out.”

What would you give to see the 60-year-old John Calipari doing a backflip?

“I’ve done backflips,” countered Cal, “on a trampoline, maybe.”

So far, the Cats have figured it out ways to win without Travis’ maturity, consistency and physicality. Not that it has been easy. Oh, the first game sans Travis was a walk-in-the-park 80-53 rout of visiting Auburn. After that, however, Kentucky has trailed at the half in each of its last four games. Urgent revivals were required to pull victories out of the fire.

Down 15 in the second half at home to Arkansas, UK won 70-66. Down 13 at the half at Tennessee, the Cats succumbed to the will of the revenge-minded Vols and lost by 19. Down one at Ole Miss on Tuesday, the Cats prevailed 80-76. Down three early in the second half Saturday, the Cats went on a 15-2 run to take control.

“Defensively, wow,” said Florida Coach Mike White, “they’re elite.”

Even without Travis, the Cats outrebounded the Gators 39-23. They bothered the visitors into missing 15 of their 18 three-point attempts. And they found the foul line. Kentucky made 26 of 32 free throws. Florida made just six of 11.

But a smaller Florida outscored the Cats 32-22 in the paint. And, according to Calipari, there is still something missing.

“We’ve got to get some 40-minute, 35-minute games and we haven’t had the last couple of weeks,” he said. “Maybe it’s because Reid is out.”

That’s a pretty good guess.

“It’s scary to think that with their next opponent, they could potentially be even better,” White said.

That’s the thing. Without Travis, Kentucky is still a formidable foe, be it at Bridgestone Arena this week or wherever the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee sends them the week after. “We’ll be in by far the toughest (bracket), you all know that,” Calipari half-joked on Saturday.

With a healthy Travis playing at his best, however, this Kentucky team could go a step beyond being merely formidable. When the big boy basketball of the Big Dance comes around, it could be a Final Four team with a chance to cut down the nets in Minneapolis.

You know, Reid Travis’ hometown.

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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
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