Cats replace physicality of Travis nearly flawlessly


Kentucky freshman forward EJ Montgomery fights his way through defenders during the game against Auburn on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 80-53. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

The UK men’s basketball team has been rolling, and rightly so. They’re outmuscling, outhustling and out- (I don’t have another rhyme here, but you can pretend like I did) all their opponents. The trend didn’t stop against Auburn on Saturday afternoon, when they destroyed the Tigers by nearly 30 and won the rebounding battle by 19.

This dominance was different than any other throughout the season, however, because the Cats did all of it without graduate transfer forward Reid Travis.

“You know, sometimes they all understand without Reid, we’re going to have to do this together and I think they all came together and did it. This was an effort on both sides of the ball,” UK head coach John Calipari said.

Travis suffered a sprained knee after Keldon Johnson battled him for a rebound on the road against Missouri on Tuesday. It was announced that he’d likely miss close to two weeks, placing him back in the rotation at the very beginning of postseason play.

To make up for his absence, however, Johnson supposedly felt bad and tried to get every rebound that Travis would normally get, plus his own. He finished with 17 rebounds against Auburn, the most by an SEC guard since Sindarius Thornwell grabbed 21 against South Carolina in the 2016-17 season.

Needless to say, it was a career high, and he would even chase rebounds into teammates, which is what got Travis hurt in the first place.

“He took a couple of [my rebounds],” star forward PJ Washington joked after the game. “When he gets his hands on it, he just tries to snatch it from everybody.”

Calipari also told reporters that Johnson “told on himself” by getting all those rebounds. Now that his coach knows he can grab all those boards, he won’t be accepting anything less than big rebounding performances from Johnson moving forward.

Then, what about defense? Reid Travis was the key piece to defending Tennessee’s star Grant Williams when the Volunteers came to Rupp Arena, and his forcefulness is something the Cats certainly expected to miss.

Which would have been true, of course, if the Cats didn’t have EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards.

The big-man duo tasked with soaking up Travis’ minutes combined for six blocks (three each), three steals, ten points and a total plus-minus of +24.

“With Nick and EJ, you’ve got some shot blocking now. We had seven blocks. They [Auburn] lead the league and they had one,” Calipari said.

UK will have to play likely the rest of their season without Travis, but they’re certainly hoping it goes this well every time.