Not only did John Calipari confirm Thursday night that Reid Travis will play in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, the Kentucky basketball coach said the senior forward is farther along than he would have thought.
“I’m kind of surprised really,” Calipari said.
After missing two weeks and five games since suffering a sprained knee at Missouri on Feb. 19, Travis will be back on the floor Friday when UK plays Alabama at 7 p.m. EDT at Bridgestone Arena.
“He’s been terrific in practice, kind of surprising,” said Calipari at the Lowes Hotel, UK’s headquarters for the tournament. “His conditioning looked OK. I asked him, ‘How did you do that?’ He said, ‘I was on the treadmill in that water hard.’”
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Earlier in the week, Calipari had said that if Travis was available for the SEC Tournament, the grad transfer would only be used in short bursts of four-to-five minutes. Is that still the plan?
“I don’t know, we’ll let him see,” said the coach. “He’s farther along than I thought.”
Travis returns as Kentucky prepares to play an Alabama team that (a) rallied to beat Ole Miss 62-57 on Thursday night in the tournament, and (b) handed UK one of its three conference losses during the regular season. In its SEC opener on Jan. 5, UK lost at Alabama 77-75.
“It’s going to be a hard game for us,” Calipari said. “They did beat us and they did it in a physical manner. I didn’t watch the (Ole Miss) game yet, but they said it was 25 second-chance points and toughness around the rim. I showed our guys, we probably missed in that game 14, 15 layups. You can’t miss layups. You can’t miss 15 layups and play a team like that.”
Should Travis’ return help in that regard?
“He just gives you a toughness that we’re going to have to have,” Calipari said. “And not just in this game, in any game we play. If you’re not fighting and you’re not physical and tough at this point of the year, you’re losing. That’s just how it is.”
At 18-14 overall, after going 8-10 in the SEC regular season, Alabama is playing for a shot at an NCAA Tournament berth. A second win over a Kentucky team now ranked fourth in the AP Top 25 would surely help the Crimson Tide’s cause.
“You look at about everybody this time of year and everybody’s playing for their lives,” Calipari said.
The coach said his team has practiced well leading up to the tournament. He said practices have been terrific. He said he wants to see that with Travis returning, is his team in sync? Will any changes need to be made?
Calipari also said that with nothing to do in Nashville, he has been watching tapes of his team’s games with Alabama and Ole Miss. In Tuscaloosa, Tevin Mack scored 22 points to help Bama’s win over UK. Mack scored 21 in Bama’s win Thursday night.
“He’s a shot-maker,” Calipari said. “You can’t run gaps, you can’t go under (screens), you can’t do things that we did in that game. Just can’t do it because he’ll make shots. He’s good.”
And Alabama will have had the advantage of playing a game in the tournament.
“The first game you play in all these tournaments,” Calipari said, “is the hardest game.”