North Carolina had known about Kentucky’s Reid Travis prior to its game in the CBS Sports Classic on Saturday. Before transferring to UK in the offseason, he played for Stanford and scored 21 points against the Tar Heels in November 2017.
“He’s a bull. He’s a work horse,” UNC senior guard Kenny Williams said Thursday, when asked what he remembered about him.
But despite knowing what they knew, they still had no answer for the 6-8, 245-pound forward, when UNC played Kentucky at the United Center in Chicago on Saturday.
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Travis scored 20 points, 16 coming in the first half, and No. 19 UK beat No. 9 UNC 80-72.
“They dominated things inside,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “We don’t have a big stud like we’ve had at times in the past, but we’ve still got to find a way to play and win.”
UK freshman Keldon Johnson had a 16-point second half, and led the Wildcats with 21 points.
UNC graduate senior Cam Johnson led the Tar Heels with 17 points, and senior forward Luke Maye had 16.
The Tar Heels dropped their third game of the season, a week after a 103-90 win over then-No. 4 Gonzaga at home. The Tar Heels (8-3) had hoped that win would give it momentum heading into its game with Kentucky. But there was a noticeable difference in the energy from the two games.
The Tar Heels were fired up against the Zags last week. With the crowd on their side, they showed emotion after every made basket or stop.
In this game, it was the Wildcats (9-2) that showed the emotion, and their fans got behind them.
“Their effort, I thought was much better than ours,” coach Williams said. “I think Kentucky’s staff did a better job than North Carolina’s staff about trying to get the kids to play as hard as they could possibly play.”
In recent years, the games between UNC and Kentucky have ended in epic fashion. Kentucky beat UNC 103-100 in the Las Vegas Invitational in 2016, and UNC beat Kentucky 75-73 in the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament in 2017 after Maye’s game winning jumper.
But UK, which lost its season-opener 116-84 to Duke on national television, controlled the majority of the game.
Before Saturday, UNC had outrebounded its opponents by an average of 14.1 rebounds per game. The Wildcats outrebounded the Tar Heels 44-33.
At times UNC’s players made unnecessary turnovers, and UK turned them into quick points. The Wildcats scored 20 points off the Tar Heels’ 17 turnovers. They also looked lost on defense, especially in the first half, as Kentucky’s Travis had a few wide open dunks.
“I have to bring more, we have to bring more, everybody has to bring more to each other,” Kenny Williams said.
UNC had a few chances to make the game closer than what it was. It got the score to 66-60 with 6:47 left in the game. Sophomore forward Garrison Brooks rebounded a Kentucky miss, but turned it over, and the Wildcats made him pay. Sophomore forward P.J. Washington hit a 3-pointer from the corner to make it a nine-point game instead.
Down by eight points, with 2:24 left in the game, the Tar Heels had a chance to cut the lead to five points, but UNC’s Johnson missed a 3-pointer. Instead Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson hit a 3-pointer to make it a 10-point game.
UNC, again cut the lead to six points with about 40 seconds left to play, and Maye had a chance to make it a three-point game. But he missed and the Tar Heels lost for the third time this season.