Coming off Saturday’s blowout win over then-top ranked Tennessee would have been a rational excuse for Kentucky to be stagnant to start Tuesday’s game at Missouri.
However, thanks to stellar coaching and play from the country’s fourth-ranked team, the Wildcats grabbed a commanding 41-23 halftime lead over the Tigers.
Throughout the second half, the two teams played tug-of-war as the contest became “chippy.” Missouri carved away at Kentucky’s lead late in the game, and Reid Travis went down with a knee injury, but Kentucky weathered the storm to finish off the Tigers, 66-58.
Travis Heads to Locker Room
Starting center Reid Travis went down with a knee injury midway through the second half. Travis managed to play the following possession on defense but was then subbed out with 10:24 remaining.
The graduate transfer went straight to the locker room, awkwardly favoring his knee. With 7:59 left in the game, ESPN released an update that Travis was ruled OUT with a sprained knee. The injury occurred when Keldon Johnson incidentally banged into Travis’s knee while attempting to gather a rebound.
Losing Travis, even for a small window of time, would be troublesome for the Wildcats. His boulder-like presence inside the painted area is irreplaceable and significant to what Kentucky executes at both ends of the court. His injury will certainly be worth monitoring heading into the Wildcats’ next outing.
Washington Sustains His Excellence
Sophomore forward PJ Washington is playing by far the best basketball of his two-year career with Kentucky. On Tuesday morning, Washington was named the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week in addition to already being recognized as the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week.
Washington continued to surge in Columbia on Tuesday night, scoring 15 of Kentucky’s 41 points in the first half. He scored those 15 points on 6-10 shooting and was a +20 in his first 18 minutes of action.
Kentucky’s super star continued to dominate in all facets, finishing the game with 18 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Washington’s decision to return to school continues to benefit not just his NBA draft stock but also his team’s chances of hanging their ninth championship banner.
Richards Impacts Off the Bench
Last year’s starting center, Nick Richards, has taken a back seat this season to graduate transfer Reid Travis and even in the rotation to EJ Montgomery, the team’s top recruit from last summer.
However, his reduced time on the hardwood hasn’t swayed Richards’ work ethic and motor when he’s subbed in to games. Both Montgomery and Travis saw early foul trouble on Tuesday night, which led to Richards receiving extended playing time in he first half.
The second-year talent excelled in the moment, scoring seven points on 3-3 shooting while grabbing four rebounds, which should be an indicator more performances like Tuesday’s are to come in the near future.
Hagans’ Struggles are Concerning
Aside from his positive performance against Tennessee on Saturday, the play of freshman point guard Ashton Hagans has been rather discouraging over the last three weeks. His struggles returned on Tuesday night, missing the only shot he took and assisting on just one basket while committing three turnovers in 15 first half minutes.
Hagans did come out more focused in the second half, though, scoring 12 points while limiting his turnovers to a total of four. However, if Kentucky wants to truly contend for a national title, the play of their point guard will need to become much more consistent.
Herro Does it All, Again
Freshman shooting guard Tyler Herro recorded his first career double-double during the team’s win over Tennessee on Saturday. While hit shooting percentage wasn’t efficient, he led both teams in rebounding and contributed with timely shot-making on his way to a double digit scoring effort.
In Columbia, Herro found himself once again swishing significant shots to jumpstart the team’s momentum or end a spurt by the Tigers. The young star finished the game with 18 points, five rebounds and two assists. Herro has a knack for the “big” moment, which should greatly benefit Kentucky as postseason play nears.
Kentucky (22-4) returns to Lexington primed for round two against the Auburn Tigers (17-8) on Saturday afternoon. Tip-off at Rupp Arena is set for 1:30 pm EST on CBS.