College basketball is a very dynamic sport. It truly seems like anything can happen on any given day against any given opponent. You look around the college landscape, and top teams have been falling at a greater pace than any other time in the sport.
One thing that seems to remain constant, though, is that if Kentucky is going to beat you, it’s going to beat you with its stars.
The Wildcats’ stars did what they were expected to do as Missouri was downed by Kentucky 71-59 on Saturday afternoon.
Nick Richards poured in 21 points, grabbed 12 boards and blocked four shots before fouling out late in the second half. Immanuel Quickley scored a game-high 23 points. Ashton Hagans dished out seven assists, the same amount the Tigers had as a team. Tyrese Maxey didn’t play his best game but still put up eight points.
On Missouri’s side, the stars were almost nowhere to be found. Dru Smith was the only Tiger in double-digits with 11 points, but he shot just 5-for-13 from the field. Mark Smith hit a couple of 3s but was ineffective beyond that.
Jeremiah Tilmon continues to struggle with foul trouble and was gone for the majority of the first half, and though a couple of the referees’ calls were questionable, he has the reputation and has to learn to deal with it. Losing him for the first half was a large part of what allowed Richards to score 17 points and grab eight rebounds in the first half.
Head coach Cuonzo Martin, with almost nowhere else to turn, ended up giving Mario McKinney Jr. and Axel Okongo on the floor in non-garbage time minutes.
This isn’t the first time Missouri’s stars have failed to make a difference. Against Illinois on Dec. 21, Tilmon and Mark Smith combined for four points, though Dru Smith, Javon Pickett and Xavier Pinson did manage to lead the the Tigers to the win.
But that didn’t happen against Kentucky. Pickett and Pinson didn’t step up to make up for Smith and Tilmon’s lack of production. Nobody else was able to help Missouri withstand the Wildcats’ surge midway through the first half.
For a team that has scoring issues already, not having Mark Smith and Tilmon contributing like they capable isn’t going to cut it. It’s a testament to the Tigers’ defensive chops that the score didn’t get any worse.
Missouri did well to get the first punch in as it jumped out to a 17-9 lead. The Tigers wouldn’t have had the talent to withstand taking the first rather than giving it. Kentucky does, though, and that’s how it went on a quick 12-0 run to take a lead it would never relinquish.
The Tigers kept it close, and Torrence Watson’s 3-pointer at the 15:40 mark in the second half got them to within four points. But once again, the Wildcats’ stars made the difference. Kentucky went on a 13-4 run over the next 3:17 to build up a double-digit lead. Quickley had eight of his 17 second-half points during the run, which put the game out of reach.
John Calipari will always have stars on his team, and the stars will almost always be the ones that beat you. They proved it once again Saturday. If Missouri is to have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament in March, its own stars need to do the same.