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Missouri came upon a perfect storm in Lexington

Kentucky rode early hot shooting to doom the Tigers in their hopes to sweep the Wildcats.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

I felt like I was backpedaling the entire night trying to explain the first half and what happened.

Basically, Kentucky blitzed Mizzou from deep. What worked in the Tigers’ favor in the first game between these teams (Kentucky’s inability to make jump shots) buried them as the Wildcats started to pull away through a series of deep threes, which opened up some driving lanes. If you missed the post-game wrap, here’s what I talked about then:

The blueprint for beating Kentucky is simple, though not always easy to execute: clog the lane with bodies, close out low and strong on jump shooters, and make post entries difficult. Do these things and limit the number of fast break opportunities for the Wildcats, and you can limit them offensively.

I talked about it in the preview, and Matt and I covered it at length in the podcast, but Kentucky is missing the extraordinary talent on the roster this year. They’ve got a lot of really good, really talented athletes, but they don’t have a Malik Monk-level shot maker who can bail them out of tough situations. And as Missouri expertly executed its defensive game plan, Kentucky just couldn’t find the answers offensively when they needed them.

The game plan last night was just as simple, and Missouri stuck to it for a while as Kentucky missed their first 3-pointer. But then the Wildcats proceeded to hit eight of their next nine attempts to close out the half. The Cats cooled off in the second half a little, but the damage was done. When Kentucky is a threat to hit from deep, you have to close out harder and defend tighter, and this opens up drive lanes for their athletes like Hamidou Diallo and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. With their athleticism, if this happens, you’re probably toast, and Mizzou was toast.


Box Score UK Mizzou 2-24

Kinda ugly for both sides of the ball. Mizzou played decent on defense in the first half, they stuck to the plan of forcing Kentucky to shoot over the top, giving them space on drives, and it REALLY didn’t work out. The Wildcats have eclipsed 40% from three exactly eight times all season (they’re 7-1 in those games), they’ve eclipsed 50% just three times (3-0), and 60% once. That 60% game? Last night against Missouri. Woo.

The defense actually wasn’t that bad

At least in the first half.

I had some mentions on twitter which made the first half defense seem like it was swiss cheese. But as was mentioned above, the game plan is what it was. Against a team as talented and athletic as Kentucky, you hope they aren’t making threes because if they are you’re doomed in half-court defense. Here is a screenshot of the four threes from the SEC Network highlights:

kentucky three point shots mizzou first half

Frame No. 1 is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, No. 2 is Kevin Knox, No. 3 is Quade Green and, finally, No. 4 is SGA again. This doesn’t include Diallo, who hadn’t been able to hit the broad side of a barn in conference play, and he made two of two in the first half. Remember, this is a guy you WANT to take deep threes.

The halftime score was 44-32, and Kentucky went 8-10 from deep. If they’re above their season average and hit 4-10, the score is tied at half. Missouri was 6-18 from 3FG in the first half for 33%. On the season they’re at 39%, so that means season averages would put Mizzou with a 3point lead at half time.

Sometimes it’s not your night.

(don’t make me .gif these 3’s to prove my point — I’ll do it, you know I will)

The game plan from game one to game two didn’t change, Kentucky and Missouri didn’t change from game one to game to game two. Mizzou was slightly worse offensively and Kentucky was the polar opposite of what they were against Mizzou in game one.

There were missteps and a few open shots, but for the most part, Kentucky shot better than they had all season.

In the second half things got away a bit. Kentucky’s hot shooting and Mizzou’s inability to get things going offensively with anyone other than Kassius Robertson or Jordan Barnett seemed to weigh down the team. Ultimately they started to slump as the Wildcats built upon their lead early in the second half and, at that point, the game was over.

We might be reaching a point where this team NEEDS Michael Porter Jr

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Kassius Robertson was as good as you could have asked him to be last night: 26 points on 15 shots (yeah his free throw shooting has certainly leveled off a bit, and that’s a concern), eight rebounds, three assists, and 6-for-11 from 3FG.

Jordan Barnett could be more aggressive on offense but he still pitched in 11 points on 3-7 shooting from deep.

The rest of the team did not provide a boost. 29 points in 32 shots, 1-for-13 from 3FG, and the FG% was only saved by Reed Nikko and Jeremiah Tilmon going 4-5 from the floor. Jontay Porter struggled, Jordan Geist didn’t have his best night either. Cullen VanLeer provided good defense on Knox for the most part but struggles against athleticism on offense.

Basically, this team needs an offensive jolt, and their prize recruit could be the piece to the puzzle.

It may not be against Vanderbilt or even Arkansas, but if the Tigers were suddenly blessed with another offensive threat, even if Porter isn’t completely able to be what we originally expected, it would be a giant boon for this team.

Mizzou is still mostly fine with the NCAA tournament, Joe Lunardi came out with an updated bracket after the game and Mizzou still sits as a 7 seed.

Matt Harris did some quick math last night.

No matter what Missouri does they’ll have a really good resume for a tournament bid. Six Quadrant 1 wins are really going to look good when it comes to Selection Sunday. But lose out and you’re at risk for the No. 9 seed in the SEC tournament. That might nab you an easier win in the first round but it doesn’t set you up for a potential run in the tournament.

The three-game losing streak sucks. I won’t try to convince you it doesn't. But they’ve dropped one game they shouldn’t have, one that took an extraordinary offensive performance from a team searching with an interim coach.

Beat Vandy on Tuesday and the worries are over. You're all but assured a tournament spot and you’ll be coming home to play your rival Arkansas with a top-five draft pick looking to find some minutes after a long layoff.

Last year Mizzou was 7-21 and we were already talking about potential new coaching hires.

This year Mizzou is a seemingly “disappointing” 18-11 and looking for one more win to secure a tournament bid. We’re OK, everyone. Things are really OK.