(NASHVILLE, Tn) — SEC Tournament play generally ushers in a different style of basketball than what fans typically witness during the regular season. In their quarterfinal SEC Tournament opener, No. 4 Kentucky (27-5) blitzed Alabama 73-55 in a game highlighted by Reid Travis’ triumphant return. UK, who simply had too many weapons for the Tide to counter, played at a frenetic pace and continually pushed the ball up the court in transition. Freshman guard Tyler Herro, a pure shooter with a smooth stroke, shouldered the offensive burden and once again provided credence to his “I’m a bucket,” statement. Herro led the ‘Cats scoring attack with 20-points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field, including 2-of-4 from downtown—leaving little doubt that he’s a bucket. For good measure, Herro added 6 rebounds and 2 steals.
Kentucky dominated points in the paint outscoring the Tide 34-18, and thanks to sophomore forward PJ Washington, controlled the defensive glass as well. Defensively, the ‘Cats swarmed Alabama and held Avery Johnson’s squad to 17-of-56 (30.4%) from the field. On the offensive side, Washington recorded yet another double-double scoring 10-points and grabbing a team-high 12 rebounds. Although Washington didn’t necessarily have a stellar shooting night (4-of-12), he more than made his presence known on the defensive end. As a team, the ‘Cats protected the rim and blocked 11 shots on the night. Washington not only swatted 4 shots himself, but provided a physical presence down low which frustrated Alabama’s bigs.
6’8” graduate transfer Reid Travis sported a bulky knee brace, but logged 23 minutes of action against the Tide. Playing in his first game since the knee injury against Missouri, Travis provided the physicality necessary to compete with a rugged SEC team like Alabama. Reid looked hesitant on his first touch in the paint, but after the initial jitters wore off, he immediately impacted the game on the defensive end, blocking three shots in the first-half. Travis showed few ill effects from the injury and appeared to possess a full range of motion without restrictions on his mobility. Offensively, Travis scored 8-points on 4-of-6 shooting and snatched 7 rebounds—a welcome sight for BBN fans everywhere. Better yet, Travis didn’t favor the knee when he attempted to block shots and rebound.
Without question, Travis’ leadership and veteran presence on the floor takes the ‘Cats to another level. He does a lot of small things which often go unnoticed. Travis sets bone-jarring screens which generally benefit either Keldon Johnson or Tyler Herro coming off the baseline. Moving forward, the health of Reid Travis could determine whether this team reaches the Final Four, or flames out in the Elite 8.
Desperate teams compete with a sense of urgency, and the ‘Cats did just that. Kentucky sprinted out to an early lead, and never looked back. The Wildcats displayed crisp, clean passes along with excellent spacing and ball movement. Freshmen guards Immanuel Quickley and Jemarl Baker provided key sparks off the bench. Both knocked down key three-pointers which quelled Alabama runs. Quickley tallied 12-points and finished a perfect 4-of-4 from the field, including 3-of-3 from beyond the arc. BBN has been patiently waiting for Baker to contribute scoring off the bench. Baker finished with 6-points, knocking down his only three-point attempt. The added threat of another shooter could help propel the ‘Cats to a deep run in March.