Sidelines with John Clay

Three takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s win at Missouri

Three takeaways from Kentucky’s 66-58 win at Missouri on Tuesday:

1. It’s hold-your-breath time with Reid Travis

The 6-foot-8 graduate transfer from Stanford left the game in the second half after being fallen into by teammate Keldon Johnson on a rebound attempt. Travis departed for the UK locker room under his power A short time later, the school’s sports information director Eric Lindsey informed the media on hand that Travis had suffered a sprained knee and was out for the rest of the game.

Afterward head coach John Calipari said only that Travis’ knee was bothering him so he remained out of the game after scoring three points and grabbing two rebounds in 13 minutes. Calipari said the Minnesota native would undergo an MRI and the team would take it from there. But Cal did at least hypothetically throw out that Travis might “miss a week or two.”

How would the Cats do without the physical Travis, who has been a starter all season? Calipari shifted the possibility to a test of the players who could receive more playing time if Travis is out for any period of time. “You want more playing time?” said Calipari. “Have at it. Let’s see how you do.”

That would be freshman EJ Montgomery, who failed to score and grabbed just one rebound in 16 minutes on the floor. Or it could be sophomore Nick Richards, who scored seven points and grabbed four rebounds in 12 first-half minutes, then failed to add to those totals while on the floor for five minutes in the second half.

Hopefully, Travis’ sprain is nothing more than that and the forward will be back in short order. Though he hasn’t matched the numbers from his Stanford days, Travis’ physicality, rebounding and defense have made a major impact on this team. Stay tuned.

2. These Cats can win a slog of a game

Having faced Cuonzo Martin first at Tennessee and now at Missouri, Calipari and the Cats knew what to expect. Martin, the tough former Purdue Boilermaker, trends toward a half-court game in which his team relies on physicality and defense. “We’re a good defensive team,” he said Tuesday, “when we don’t turn it over.”

With Kentucky enjoying a talent advantage, no way Missouri was going to let the Cats get out too often for transition baskets. So the game became a sloppy half court affair with plenty of bodies on the floor. UK reserve point guard Immanuel Quickley took a couple hard falls, one from a solid Missouri screen in the backcourt. In the second half, the Tigers’ Mitchell Smith had to be helped to the locker room.

“I thought we did much better in the second half,” said Martin, whose team trailed 41-23 at the half and ended up losing by eight. “The first half we didn’t fight at all.”

From an execution standpoint, UK shot 47.6 percent the first half, just 41.7 the second half. The Cats were out rebounded 34-28. Missouri had 16 offensive rebounds compared to 22 defensive rebounds for Calipari’s club. And there were just four fast-break points scored the entire game. Kentucky scored two. Missouri scored two.

“I just wanted to get out of here,” said Calipari. “Especially after Reid got hurt.”

Still, Kentucky did show it can win that type of game, one the Cats haven’t seen in awhile.

3. PJ Washington keeps on keeping on

Martin was very complimentary of UK’s 6-8 sophomore off Dallas. The Missouri coach said it was one thing to see Washington on film, where it was obvious that he had raised his game. It was another, said the coach, to see the way Washington played on the floor, especially in the first half.

“He’s playing a very high level,” Martin said.

After scoring 15 points in the first half, Washington finished with 18 points on the night, tying for game-high honors with Tyler Herro. Washington was seven of 13 from the floor, including two of four from beyond the three-point line. He grabbed eight rebounds and made three assists.

Though Washington had his streak of 20 or more points snapped at four games, the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week is averaging 20.7 points and 7.4 rebounds over his last nine games. He was 14 of 28 from three-point range during that same time frame.

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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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