It wasn’t pretty to start with, but the Kentucky Wildcats did just enough to close out the regular season with a victory over Florida. With the win, the Cats finished the regular season with a 26-5 overall record and a 15-3 record in the conference. Thanks to Auburn’s win over Tennessee, tonight’s win also gave the Cats the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament.
Let’s look at some of the top takeaways
Senior Day was a success
For the last time, Kentucky seniors Reid Travis and Jonny David suited up in Rupp Arena as Wildcats.
Like we see with walk-on seniors almost every year, David heard his name over the loudspeaker as a starter for the first time. He got to play for one minute and 41 seconds before getting pulled by John Calipari. In his short time out on the floor, David managed a whopping one touch and zero turnovers, while only allowing one basket for the gators. Solid efficiency right there.
As for his senior companion Reid Travis, things were a little bit more complicated. Yesterday afternoon, assistant coach Kenny Payne said Travis was day to day, and he was hoping the senior forward would be able to play on his senior night. However, Travis showed up to the game wearing street clothes and did not participate in warm-ups with his teammates. He did go through senior day festivities and got his moment in the spotlight with his family, but Travis did not get the chance to participate on the floor at all today.
Here was Johnny David’s big moment as he was announced as a starter for the Wildcats:
Starting at point guard……. JONNY DAVID!!! pic.twitter.com/xE3hVCELjG
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) March 9, 2019
While the players got to celebrate their senior day, I actually got the opportunity to celebrate my own senior day as a UK student. I’ll be graduating in May, meaning today was my last home game as a student, and I wanted to get the chance to be a fan one last time in the eRupption Zone. It did not disappoint.
I’ll be covering plenty of games for KSR with the rest of the Kentucky media moving forward, but I’ve got to admit it was cool having one last chance to soak it up in the student section.
I’m celebrating my Senior Day, too. For the first time this season (and my last as a UK student), I’ll be covering the game from the eRupption Zone. pic.twitter.com/E3iX8qdxnd
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) March 9, 2019
It was a nearly identical outcome to their first matchup
In the first matchup between Kentucky and Florida on February 2, the Cats managed to turn an 11-point deficit in the second half into a 65-54 victory in Gainesville.
In a back and forth effort in the first half a month ago, Florida managed to separate themselves and take a slim 33-29 lead at halftime. After the break, the Gators found a way to extend the lead to 11 with 14 minutes remaining in the contest. From there, the Cats used a 10-0 run to their advantage to cut the lead, and then went for the kill with a 22-7 run during the final eight minutes of the game.
The Cats turned a sloppy start and early deficit into a strong victory. Sound familiar?
Saturday afternoon, Kentucky was slow to get things going, with sluggish play on both ends of the floor to start the game. And while the Wildcats struggled to get much of anything to fall on offense, the Gators found themselves on a 15-5 run to close out the first half, giving the opposition a 31-30 lead at the break.
After halftime, the Cats found a way to rally by outworking the Gators on the perimeter and down low, specifically thanks to sophomore forward PJ Washington. After Washington got going with a seven-point run of his own, everything else fell into place for the Wildcats. His scoring barrage sparked a 13-2 run over the next seven minutes and gave the Cats a comfortable 12-point cushion. The Kentucky lead never shrank to less than eight the rest of the way.
The Cats had four double-digit scorers. The team was led by Herro’s 16 points, while Washington scored 15, and Johnson and Hagans each finished with 14 points.
PJ Washington took over in the second half again
Like we saw against Ole Miss Tuesday, Kentucky sophomore forward PJ Washington turned a slow start in the first half into a dominant effort in the second.
After scoring just four points in the first half, Washington came out of the half scoring seven straight points for the Wildcats. For as many “gimmes” he missed on the inside to start the game, he more than made up for it when the Cats needed some momentum after the break.
He ended the game with 15 points on 6-14 shooting, nine rebounds and one assist, but even those impressive numbers don’t tell the entire story. In what should be his final game at Rupp Arena as a Wildcat, Washington certainly put the team on his back once again. He was the difference maker in the victory.
That was also likely Tyler Herro’s last game in Rupp Arena
He didn’t get his own time in the spotlight or a paper barrier to burst through before tip-off, but fans should realize we will likely not see Kentucky shooting guard Tyler Herro suit up again inside Rupp Arena.
Finishing with a team-high 16 points (6-11 shooting), six rebounds, two assists, one steal and zero turnovers, Herro had yet another all-around performance that will leave NBA scouts drooling.
It wasn’t just three-point shooting or elite scoring like we’re used to seeing. Instead, Tyler Herro managed to make a huge impact on both ends of the floor. On offense, Herro utilized his inside game more than we’re used to seeing, including several beautiful floaters in the lane. He also (once again) dominated from the free-throw line, going a perfect 4-for-4 to move his season percentage to 93.6 percent. When he wasn’t scoring, he was getting his teammates involved, staying active in the passing lanes and grabbing tough rebounds. If we’re being totally honest, it’d be extremely tough to find any holes in his game right now.
The whispers of Herro leaning toward entering the draft have grown louder as the season has progressed, and at this point, it would be considered a bit surprising if we see the star scorer back in Kentucky blue for a sophomore season.
We already know PJ Washington and Keldon Johnson are almost certainly headed to the NBA, but it’s time to pencil in Herro as a one-and-done, as well.
We still don’t know when Reid Travis will play
Like I said earlier, Kenny Payne told reporters Friday he still considers Travis day-to-day, but he had hoped the Wildcat senior could suit up this afternoon. Obviously, that didn’t happen, leaving the BBN with more questions than answers. After the game, Calipari didn’t provide much clarity. In fact, Calipari said he hasn’t even talked to Travis’ doctors.
“I’ve absolutely stayed out of it. I really haven’t even talked to the doctors because these kids know their bodies, and I don’t want him or anyone to think that I’m pushing him to play if he’s not [ready to play].”
Calipari later provided the media with an alleged recap of his typical conversations with Travis about his progress. Coach Cal says they go like this:
Calipari: “How are you feeling?”
Travis: “I’m getting better.”
It’s hard to believe Calipari hasn’t checked in with the team’s doctors (believe that at your own discretion), but Calipari did confirm the injury hasn’t changed – it’s still a sprained knee.
“Here is what’s good: it’s not an ACL, it’s a sprained knee. He’s going to be fine. Would I like to have him on my team right now? Yes. But not at any expense of his, no. We’ll do fine. If he plays, I’ll be doing back flips. If he doesn’t play, we’ll just figure it out. I’ve done back flips before, on a trampoline maybe.”
Does Kentucky need Travis back to put themselves in the conversation for a Final Four? Probably. Does the BBN all want to see Calipari do a backflip? Definitely.
Ravi Moss sparked the crowd
Former Kentucky player and current UK basketball emcee Ravi Moss sparked controversy this afternoon by calling out the Rupp Arena crowd for not being loud enough during the first half of the game
“Alright guys, I want to be brutally honest. This is the last game of the season and you all have been bad, lousy at best. You’ve been sitting the whole game, lets get up and cheer for these guys!”
The overall reception to his comments weren’t all that great immediately, but it certainly meant something to the Big Blue Nation once the game began again. The crowd certainly livened up in the second half, giving Kentucky a much-needed boost for their comeback victory
Florida head coach Mike White even acknowledged the difference in fan noise from the first half to the second, saying it was much harder for his team to execute after the break.
“The decibels weren’t as high in the first half.”
This team, like most teams, has been vocal about how much crowd participation fuels their own energy and confidence during games. While the Rupp Arena crowd won’t get another opportunity to redeem themselves this season, the BBN will be out in full-force in Nashville. You can bet on that.
The Cats will return to action as the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament. Their first game is now set for 7:00 p.m. Friday night in Nashville. We’ll see you there!