COLUMBIA, Mo. — Kentucky’s coaching staff challenged forward Bam Adebayo this week, criticizing his foul trouble and “cautious” play at times.
Adebayo seemed anything but cautious as he recorded his fourth double-double of the season, scoring 22 points and grabbing a career-high 15 rebounds to help the 11th-ranked Wildcats defeat Missouri 72-62 on Tuesday night.
“If someone passes on him in the (NBA) draft this year, they should be fired, and the reason is he can guard five positions,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said of Adebayo. “I couldn’t be more proud of him. He’s on a team where we’ve got some guards that like shooting the ball. He just keeps playing. He doesn’t say much. It’s on me to make sure we’re throwing him the ball more.”
Terrence Phillips led Missouri with a career-high 22 points, shooting 4 for 8 from 3-point range while the rest of the Tigers shot a combined 0 for 14.
“I did what I could for my team tonight,” Phillips said. “I thought collectively, as a group, we played pretty well for about 35 minutes. We’ve just got to find ways to really finish games. That was a game we could’ve gotten, especially at home with the crowd behind us.”
Neither team led by more than two possessions in a low-scoring first half. Missouri (7-20, 2-13 Southeastern Conference) took a 28-24 lead with 4:27 remaining in the half following a 7-0 run. Calipari called a timeout after a layup by Jordan Barnett capped the Tigers’ run, and the Wildcats held a 31-30 halftime lead despite shooting 1 for 8 from the field to close the half. Barnett finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.
Kentucky (23-5, 13-2) dominated the glass in the second half, outrebounding the Tigers 26-12 led by Adebayo, who had 10 second-half rebounds.
Missouri was in foul trouble all game as its frontcourt struggled with Kentucky’s size and athleticism. The Wildcats made 19 of 28 free throw attempts, while Missouri converted on 14 of 23 attempts.
“Obviously, he’s bigger than our guys,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said of Adebayo. “So, to his credit, he kept his hands up, moved his feet and didn’t get in foul trouble. And we did on the other end, trying to stop him. That was a tough matchup.”
Missouri forwards Reed Nikko and Russell Woods had both fouled out with 4:30 remaining, forcing the Tigers to go small. Woods and Nikko were limited to 24 combined minutes due to foul trouble.
Calipari was assessed a technical foul during a media timeout with 7:47 remaining, leading to two free throws by Phillips. On the ensuing possession, a layup by Barnett tied the game at 52.
The Wildcats answered as Adebayo converted a three-point play and a two-handed dunk on consecutive possessions, followed by a 3-pointer by Wenyen Gabriel that capped an 8-0 Kentucky run. Gabriel finished with six points and five rebounds.
From that point, Kentucky took advantage of Missouri’s foul trouble, attacking the paint and steadily increasing its lead as Missouri finished the half shooting 2 for 8 from the field.
“The only thing I told them after was `You know we’re not where we need to be,'” Calipari said. “We’ve got to start getting better, and I also said we’ve got guys in the room who aren’t playing confident enough.”
De’Aaron Fox scored 13 points and Malik Monk added 11 despite shooting 4 for 12 from the field. Monk entered the game averaging a team-high 21.4 points per game.
Kentucky: The Wildcats remain tied with No. 13 Florida for first place in the SEC. The Gators defeated South Carolina 81-66 on Tuesday in Gainesville. Kentucky improves to 6-2 on the road, tying the Gators for the most conference road victories.
Missouri: The Tigers have never beaten the Wildcats in 10 attempts. Missouri has not beaten a ranked opponent since an 80-71 home win against then-No. 18 UCLA on Dec. 7, 2013.
With 14:16 remaining in the first half, Barnett stole the ball near half court and threw down an emphatic one-handed slam, igniting the home crowd and cutting the Tigers’ deficit to one.
The Wildcats have an opportunity to reenter the Top 10 as they approach Saturday’s home game against Florida, their final ranked opponent. Kentucky is 7-0 at home this season.
Kentucky: Hosts Florida on Saturday. The Gators defeated the Wildcats 88-66 on Feb. 4 in Gainesville.
Missouri: Visits Ole Miss on Saturday. The Rebels defeated Missouri 75-71 on Jan. 21 in Columbia.