COLUMBIA, Mo. — Often the bearers of the guillotine this season, the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats instead relied on a slow bleed to send the Missouri Tigers to their sixth straight conference loss with a 69-53 defeat.
Kentucky (20-0, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) led Missouri (7-13, 1-6) by nine at halftime and the final 20 minutes of the game began with a deluge of fouls. Kentucky was in the bonus not five minutes into the second half. In the first 3:24 following halftime, the teams combined for 10 fouls and two total points.
With 10:01 left in the game, both teams were in the double bonus. After a quick and painless 86-37 win over Missouri on Jan. 13, Thursday’s game was anything but.
“We knew they were going to come out and be physical,” Kentucky center Dakari Johnson said. “That’s how teams are going to play us, just try to be physical with us, and we have to play physical back.”
John Calipari echoed his player’s statement, believing that this game plan — physical play, high-fouls — will become more common place against his young team.
“I guess that’s the M.O.,” Calipari said. “Be really physical, body-to-body, you know. We’re going to have to figure it out and play through it.”
Sophomore guard Andrew Harrison led Kentucky in scoring with 15 points. He attempted four field goals — making all of them — and converted on nine of his 11 free-throw attempts.
In the second half, Kentucky made seven of 19 field-goal attempts, and extended its lead to as many as 20 points. It did that on the back of a 20-of-27 performance at the free-throw line in the final 20 minutes.
“We just couldn’t handle their size,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. “They did a great job of getting the ball inside, and we fouled. We fouled way too much.
“They’re the No. 1-team in the country. I can certainly see why.”
Missouri was led by Wes Clark, who scored 19 points. He added four assists, four rebounds and three steals in 35 minutes. Remarkably, he was the only Missouri player to not get whistled for a foul, as three of his teammates fouled out. Clark rebounded after two missed free throws against Arkansas sent Missouri to a one-point loss on Saturday.
“The coaching staff, the players … stood behind me with the tough loss,” Clark said. “It gave me confidence to come and play a lot better.”
“I knew he would (bounce back),” Anderson said. “I wasn’t near as worried about Wes as everyone else was because — I mean I was concerned and I was there for him, and I told him, as I told you guys, hey, you didn’t lose the game. The game was lost, there were several possessions where that game was lost.
“I thought he’d respond.”
After getting run out of Rupp Arena in Lexington two weeks ago, Missouri engaged in a surprising back-and-forth first half against the top-ranked Wildcats.
Kentucky began with a 6-0 start, but five lead changes saw Missouri take an eventual 17-16 lead with 7:25 remaining on a jumper by freshman guard Namon Wright.
The Wildcats’ size took over, however. Missouri settled for 11 3-point attempts — making three of them — while Kentucky got the ball into the post at will. Led by six points from 6-foot-11 forward Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky ended the half on an 18-8 run to lead by nine.
Missouri, however, got an unexpected six points off the bench from forward Ryan Rosburg, who supplied all the scoring for Missouri over a nearly five-minute stretch late in the first half.
Fouls turned the first half into a sloppy, mistake-filled start for both teams. Both teams were in the bonus by the 7:12 mark, and Kentucky and Missouri each had seven turnovers.
Kentucky proved to be the more balanced of the two teams, as expected. Nine of the 10 Wildcat players to see the floor in the first half scored. Forward Willy Cauley-Stein was the only Kentucky player to not score.
“We had 10 guys score baskets,” Calipari said. “I love that.”
NOTES: Thursday’s game was the first for Kentucky G Devin Booker in Columbia, Mo., as a college player. Booker, a freshman, is the son
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