Kentucky treads carefully after two scares to open SEC schedule
After its first two SEC games, Kentucky likely won’t take any opponent lightly, even sub-.500 Missouri.
The top-ranked Wildcats look to provide fewer anxious moments in their return home and remain unbeaten when they face the Tigers on Tuesday night.
Kentucky (15-0, 2-0) was taken to overtime by Mississippi before winning 89-86 last Tuesday and then needed two OTs for a 70-64 victory at Texas A&M on Saturday.
Freshman Devin Booker scored a team-leading 18 points and Tyler Ulis hit a key 3-pointer with 1:26 to go in the final OT.
"I’ve said all along that you don’t want to go through a season where you’re never in a close game because you don’t learn about your team," coach John Calipari said. "But enough is enough. We had enough of these games now. Let’s get some games that are a little bit easier for us, but I don’t think we’ll have any.
"I think every game we play is someone’s Super Bowl."
Kentucky trailed the Aggies by 11 in the first half and needed two late free throws from Dakari Johnson to send the game to overtime.
”We’re not a very good team right now,” Calipari said.
Booker, the son of former Missouri star Melvin Booker, is averaging 14.8 points and 58.5 percent shooting in the past five games after averaging 8.4 and 42.6 in his first nine contests.
His father’s alma mater has labored to find a groove under first-year coach Kim Anderson. Missouri (7-8, 1-1) opened conference play Thursday with its first marquee win of the season — 74-67 in overtime over visiting LSU — but fell 85-79 at Auburn on Saturday.
Missouri led by four with 6:52 to go but couldn’t regain command after a 3-1/2-minute scoring drought. Keith Shamburger had a season-high 21 points and has scored in double figures in a season-best three consecutive games.
The Tigers will play a third consecutive game without their second-leading scorer, freshman Montaque Gill-Caesar (11.5 ppg).
"I think we remain a team still trying to find itself completely, but we’ve gotten a lot better. Our young guys are playing better. … The LSU game gave us some confidence," Anderson said. "We know we have a tremendously tough game (Tuesday) against Kentucky, the best team in the country. I’m hopeful that what we have learned here in the past week in the SEC will carry over and we can play well."
Missouri is 0-6 against Kentucky, but has played the Wildcats close in two meetings since joining the SEC in 2012-13. The Tigers fell 90-83 in overtime at Lexington on Feb. 23, 2013 and lost 84-79 at home Feb. 1.
Kentucky’s current leading scorer Aaron Harrison paced the Wildcats with 21 points in that game while Missouri’s top scorer this season, Johnathan Williams III (13.7 ppg), had one point.
The Tigers have lost five in a row to ranked teams and six straight against top-ranked squads since a double-overtime victory against a 22-0 Kansas team Feb. 4, 1997. Kentucky has won 31 of its past 32 home games against unranked teams.