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Reid Travis makes his triumphant return

And not a moment too soon.

Jamie Boggs - Sea of Blue

Reid Travis made his long-awaited return to action when the Kentucky Wildcats faced the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Tournament.

Travis has been sidelined since injuring his knee against Missouri on February 19th. While the prognosis was positive after the MRI, it has still taken time for the graduate transfer to get back on the court.

Travis was fourth on the team in scoring with 11.3 points per game and second in rebounds with 6.9 per game. But much of what he brings to the table cannot be found on a stat sheet.

Whether it is defending the opponent’s best frontcourt player or clearing the lane for other players to come in and hit the boards, his absence had definitely been felt in the five games without him.

So it was no surprise to see Kentucky dominate Alabama once Tavis returned to action in front of a roaring sea of blue in Nashville.

“It was cool,” Reid said of the ovation when he checked in. “I loved it. The fans here are the best in the country. BBN, just showing a lot of love. When they give you a reward, it’s special. A lot to appreciate. It’s a lot of love from them.”

With the senior playing big minutes from the start, Kentucky finally dominated from start to finish, something we only saw once we he got hurt — the 80-63 win over Auburn, a team that plays four guards and doesn’t take advantage of Travis not playing.

Kentucky actually struggled in the first half when Travis was on the bench, but he did just enough to help Kentucky build a 39-29 halftime lead.

Travis would finish with eights points on 4/6 shooting, seven rebounds, three blocks and a +/- of 18 in 23 minutes, trailing only Washington’s 20.

“Reid means everything to this team,” said freshman guard Immanuel Quickley. “He’s a veteran. He’s more mature than everybody here. He’s just like a big brother for us. We can talk to him about things on and off the court. He really feels like family.”

With Travis out, opposing defenses have also felt more confident in helping on PJ Washington when he gets the ball in the paint. With Travis on the court, Washington has proven to be a willing passer in the post and has often hit Travis underneath the basket for easy buckets. Even when that has not happened, Travis has been able to capitalize on the attention PJ receives and clean up the offensive glass.

We saw that to a degree against Alabama, as Washington scored 10 points, grabbed 12 boards and dished out four assists while blocking four shots.

“It was definitely great,” Washington said of having Travis back. “He brought a lot of toughness to us, and he blocked a lot of shots and rebounded the ball really well. A lot of putbacks. It’s just great to have a leader like that on the floor and someone who’s really physical.”

Many hoped that Travis’ time off would help Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery make the strides necessary to contribute come tournament time. And while that very well may have happened, the thing that became most clear during Travis’ time off was how important he is to this team.

In this game, Richards finished with a +/- of just 2, while Montgomery actually had a -2, in case you were wondering which of those three bigs was more important in this win.

Kentucky is thrilled to have Travis back on the court, as this final run of games before the NCAA Tournament not only will help secure a high seed, but they also set the tone for this team moving into March Madness.

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