Unfortunately for Mizzou, No. 1 UK isn’t overlooking trip to Columbia
Kentucky has embarrassed plenty of schools during its perfect start, but among those from major conferences, Missouri may have suffered the worst of it.
The toughest part for the Tigers is that none of John Calipari’s Wildcats will be declaring for the NBA draft before Missouri has to face them again.
After a 49-point thumping just over two weeks ago, the SEC foes meet again Thursday night at Missouri with top-ranked Kentucky seeking its first 20-0 start under Calipari.
The 2009-10 team, which lost in the Elite Eight, also started 19-0, while the Wildcats (19-0, 6-0 SEC) started with 23 straight wins in 1965-66 and 25 in ’53-54.
Continuing their march toward those marks seems likely considering their 86-37 home rout of Missouri (7-12, 1-5) on Jan. 13 was their largest margin of victory aside from a 58-point win over Montana State. The Tigers shot 27.1 percent and were one of 18 from 3-point range despite shooting 36.8 percent from long range in their other games.
It moved Kentucky to 7-0 all-time against Missouri, including an 84-79 win Feb. 1 in its first stop in Columbia since the Tigers joined the SEC.
While another five-point decision is unlikely, Calipari seems to have coached a young team capable of demolition on how to downplay the smoldering rubble.
"It’s totally different. It’s a road game," freshman guard Devin Booker told the school’s official website. "So our fans back at Rupp (Arena), they helped us a lot during that game, so I feel like their fans are going to try to do the same for them, so we just have to play against ourselves again. That’s been like the topic of the season is playing against ourselves and not worrying about who our opponent is."
Booker, whose father Melvin was an All-American at Missouri in 1994, was at the center of Saturday’s comparatively modest 58-43 final in South Carolina. The guard scored a game-high 18 in 26 minutes off the bench and is averaging 12.5 points while shooting 59.1 percent from 3-point range in six conference games.
Aaron Harrison was the only other Kentucky player in double figures with 13 points. The team’s leading scorer is averaging 14.3 points in SEC play, including a game-high 16 with a 5-of-8 mark from beyond the arc against Missouri. In two games in the series, he’s averaging 18.5 points one 61.1 percent shooting.
Things haven’t gotten much better for the Tigers since that defeat, which was the second on their current five-game skid. After Saturday’s 61-60 home loss to Arkansas, they’re in danger dropping six straight for the first time since Jan. 21-Feb. 7, 2006.
The loss looks better on paper than the one against Kentucky, though it may have been more disappointing since Wes Clark missed two free throws in the final seconds with Missouri trailing by a point.
Montaque Gill-Caesar had 16 points and Johnathan Williams III had 15 and 10 rebounds.
"It’s frustrating but we just have to keep pushing, keep looking forward, and stay focused," Williams said. "We have to keep working every day and keep praying about it. It’ll get turned around."
It just might have to wait until they return to facing the rest of the unranked SEC.
Against the Top 25, the Tigers are 0-3 this season as part of a six-game skid that begins and ends with games against Kentucky. They’ve dropped their last seven against the No. 1 team in the country since beating Kansas in ’96-97.
Kentucky has won 19 straight against unranked opponents with an average winning margin of 23.1 points, but according to Calipari, Missouri is all but in the driver’s seat.
"I think the last game helps them a lot more than it helps us," the coach said. "Probably stung them a little bit."