By LARRY VAUGHT
NASHVILLE — Kentucky got another sensational performance from Tyler Herro and a huge boost with the return of Reid Travis to easily beat Alabama 73-55 in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals Friday and avenge a January loss to the Crimson Tide.
“We played against a team that was well rested and waiting for us and they were ready to go,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “We just couldn’t quite match up.”
That’s because Herro had 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting, six rebounds, two assists and two steals.
“I think coach and my teammates just put me in the right situations. They trust me to take shots. My teammates trust me to take shots. I was taking shots that I can make,” Herro said.
Travis had missed five games with a sprained knee but played 23 minutes and had eight points, seven rebounds and three blocks.
“I feel good right now. I felt good out there. I felt like I did the necessary things the three weeks I was out to keep my body in shape, to stay engaged with the team so I could be successful when I came out here,” Travis, who was 4-for-6 from the field, said. “All in all, I thought it was pretty good for my first time out.”
So did Kentucky coach John Calipari.
“Good to have Reid back. Just the strength in having a guy when it comes time, you have to go get the ball, he can physically get down there and go get it. It was good having him back,” Calipari said.
It was also good having other strong bench performance. Freshman Immanuel Quickley went 4-for-4 from the field and had 12points in 18 minutes.
Nick Richards added nine points on 3-for-4 shooting, three rebounds and one block in 12 minutes.
“Nick left the rim, and they threw behind him for layups and dunks. Just trying to get him to stay at the rim, don’t be antsy, let them come to you. If they can make a tough 2 over a 7-footer, fine. If you leave that lane, leave that paint, leave that arc, they throw behind you, they can make layups, dunks,” Calipari said. “He did well. The jump hook, he’s worked on it.”
Sophomore PJ Washington had a grind it out double-double with 10 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, four blocks and two steals in 35 minutes. However, he was just 4-for-12 from the field.
“I told him, I know you, you’re better than you’re playing right now, let’s go,” Calipari said. “The thing that he didn’t do, they beat him to spots, which means we couldn’t throw him the ball at times.
“Look, I just want him to be special. He was a double-double, and I’m not happy. We won the game. I’m not happy. I believe he’s as good as any player in the country when he’s in a frame of mind that I’m coming after you and you’re not as good as me. I’m going. So I’m just challenging him to be that guy.”
Kentucky faces the Tennessee-Mississippi State winner in Saturday’s second semifinal (Florida will play Auburn in the first game). Kentucky beat State twice this year but split with the Vols. Calipari insisted he wasn’t worried about who the opponent would be.
“I told the team, I don’t like watching the game because I don’t know who’s going to win, and I don’t want to watch both teams. I’m not going to waste my time. If I’m not playing a team, I’m not going to watch,” Calipari said before the left the arena.
“Second thing is I’ll wait till the game is over, they’ll tell me. I’ll watch our game with them. Then I’ll watch their game tonight and go to bed. Between now and then, I may watch a movie. I don’t know. My wife and daughter are here. So my daughter, neuroscience, we’ll talk. We like to talk about that. I can’t even pronounce it, how about that?”