The start of the game on Saturday could have been described as a defensive struggle — or just some really sloppy basketball. Missouri and Kentucky combined to shoot three for 10 from the field while turning the ball over four times.
Then, both teams erupted from long range. In total 14 threes fell in the first half, but Kentucky made more and led by 12 points at halftime.
Behind red-hot shooting and a dominating performance on the glass, the Wildcats defeated Missouri 88-66. The Tigers have now lost three straight and sit at seventh place in the SEC.
Kevin Knox led Kentucky (20-9, 9-7 SEC) with 21 points while Jarred Vanderbilt added 11 points and 15 rebounds. Kassius Robertson scored 26 points in a losing effort, and was the only Mizzou player besides Jordan Barnett to score in double figures.
Hamidou Diallo drained a 3-pointer to get it going for the Wildcats, spurring an 14-3 run in which four different players hit a three. The Tigers (18-11, 8-8) responded with a Barnett jumper and step-back triple by Robertson that made it 16-13.
Robertson hit a corner 3-pointer, his third in the last two minutes, to tie the game up after Diallo missed a jumper. Kentucky missed four shots and a free throw on its next possession before Reed Nikko gave Mizzou the lead on a last-second hook shot off the glass.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander slammed home a dunk before he and Barnett traded threes. Jordan Geist briefly pushed his team ahead with a free throw and lay-in, but the Wildcats snatched the lead back on a Vanderbilt dunk and Quade Green triple.
Kentucky and the Tigers had already combined for 11 threes with over 27 minutes of basketball left to be played. Kevin Puryear answered with a short jumper, but Kentucky went on a 15-5 run and hit two more threes to go up by 10 points.
The Wildcats just didn’t want to miss. Even when they did, they managed to get the ball back pretty often with five offensive rebounds. On the other side of the court they began to lock up, forcing Mizzou into tough shots and careless turnovers.
At halftime Kentucky led 44-32 while shooting 56 percent from the field and a scintillating 80 percent from three. Missouri managed just 41 percent shooting and took almost twice as many 3-pointers as the Wildcats while making two fewer. The Tigers were getting out-rebounded 19-11, which may have been just as big of a factor in their deficit.
Puryear started the second half with a turnover and Knox turned it into an easy two-handed slam. Puryear made up for his mistake with back-to-back buckets, but Jeremiah Tilmon mishandled one of his passes and iced Mizzou’s momentum.
Kentucky was now pummeling Missouri in the paint and went on an 8-2 run that pushed its lead to 17 points. Knox hit a jumper and finished a layup to give him 11 points, which was more than double what he scored against the Tigers last time.
In a way, that epitomized this loss for Mizzou. It just didn’t have the same intensity on defense as it did in the first game. Kentucky was getting whatever it wanted, and it seemed to be nothing the Tigers could do about it.
Missouri heads straight to Tennessee for its next game, taking on Vanderbilt at 6 p.m. on Tuesday in Nashville.