Sidelines with John Clay

Three takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s impressive Bahamas trip

Three takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s 93-60 win over Team Toronto on Sunday in the final game of the Big Blue Bahamas exhibition series:

[Kentucky-Team Toronto box score]

1. A perfect record for a perfect Bahamas trip.

The 33-point trouncing of Toronto made it a clean sweep of John Calipari’s young Cats in the four-game exhibition series held at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island. And remember, this was the same series in which Calipari predicted that his team could easily lose three of the four games.

As it turned out, the competition was not the toughest. Saturday’s Serbian opponent, Mega Bemax, was highly overrated, as the Cats proved with an easy 100-64 victory. Kentucky’s toughest game was actually the first game when UK trailed briefly in the second half before rolling to a fairly easy win over the Bahamas Select Team.

Still, it was hard not to like the way Kentucky played, especially considering the Cats had but 10 practices and this was their first outings in game competition. They were especially impressive on offense, where they moved the ball, shot well and looked as if they had been teammates for a long time.

All in all, it was a terrific start to a 2018-19 season that does not officially get under way until the Nov. 5 Champions Classic showdown against Duke.

2. Reid Travis shows all of his skills.

The graduate transfer from Stanford was hesitant at times, did not look particularly explosive around the rim, and often had shots either blocked or contested down low. So went the first three games.

Sunday was a different story. The 6-foot-7 power forward led the way with 19 points and 15 rebounds. He was 7-for-14 from the floor. He made two of his three three-point attempts. He was a perfect 3-for-3 from the foul line. Plus, he grabbed 12 defensive rebounds.

You read that right. Travis stepped out and made a pair of three-point shots. UK was 10 of 22 from three-point shots overall. Tyler Herro was two of six. PJ Washington was 2-for-2. Quade Green was 2-for-3. Immanuel Quickley made one of four three-point attempts. Keldon Johnson was 1-for-2.

If Travis can knock down perimeter shots, that’s only going to make him more effective around the rim as the season progresses. Last year at Stanford, Travis was 18 of 61 from three-point range for just 29.5 percent. Travis attempted just one three-pointer his first three seasons in Palo Alto. It missed.

3. What do they need to do to do better?

That was the question ESPN/SEC Network analyst Dan Dakich kept asking fellow analyst Seth Greenberg in the second half of yet another blowout, when it was obvious the two former coaches had pretty much run out of things to talk about. Four games in five days watching the same team beat up on inferior competition is a long time.

So what do the Cats need to do to do better? (Pardon the grammar, by the way.) Calipari would undoubtedly point to defense, a facet he says he did not address during the team’s preparation for the trip. Still, when Cal talked to the television crew during second half action, he said he believed that should be an excellent defensive team. And Calipari is all about defense.

The Cats will also need to incorporate freshman E.J. Montgomery and redshirt freshman Jemarl Baker into the mix. Montgomery missed the last three games with a lower back injury. Baker, who missed all of last season after two knee surgeries, sat out all four games because of swelling on the knee.

Ultimately, there is much more these Cats will be forced to face. Late-game situations, playing against bigger teams, playing against teams that will want to slow down the pace, etc. Close games. I’m guessing that in his heart of hearts Calipari would have liked to see his team play in a close game in the Bahamas just to see how it would react.

Don’t worry. There will be plenty of those once the season starts. In less than three months.

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