Missouri is 0-5 all-time against Kentucky, but the 11th-ranked Wildcats have never played in Columbia.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
The Tigers have lost three times in Lexington, Ky., and also dropped neutral-site games in Maui and New Orleans against the winningest program in college basketball history.
Of course, last year Kentucky needed overtime to topple Missouri.
The Tigers, who made history Tuesday by winning at Arkansas’ Bud Walton Arena for the first time, hope to make more program history at noon Saturday at Mizzou Arena. Here are a few keys to making that happen:
1. Don’t get crushed on the boards
Kentucky is the best rebounding team in the SEC and ranks fourth in the nation with a 10.7 average rebounding margin.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge for us, because I think their length and their size and their athletic ability, we’ve got do a great job keeping them off the offensive glass,” Haith said. “That is one of my biggest concerns going into this game is our ability to keep them off the boards.”
The Wildcats are especially effective crashing the offensive glass, rebounding 43.6 percent of their own misses. Fortunately, for the Tigers, they’ve been a good defensive rebounding team and rank third in the SEC in defensive rebounding percentage (70.3).
Missouri is 16-2 when winning or even on the boards and 0-2 when getting outrebounded.
To beat Kentucky, freshman Johnathan Williams III, who leads the Tigers with 7.6 rebounds per game, and sophomore Ryan Rosburg, who has grabbed more than four rebounds only once in the last six games, can’t shrink away from the challenge.
But the Tigers also need the big three — senior Earnest Ross (6.7), junior Jabari Brown (4.8) and junior Jordan Clarkson (4.0) — to hit the boards hard as well and create its own second chances.
“It’s going to be key — our ability to keep them off the glass and our ability to get some second shots,” Haith said.
2. Match the early emotion
Kentucky should be fired up. Coach John Calipari challenged the Wildcats to play with more passion after a sluggish start led to a loss Tuesday at LSU.
Missouri must match that emotion early, especially if the weather keeps the expected capacity crowd below expectations.
“Anytime you lose, you come with a little more of an edge and I know (Calipari) is in their ears about playing another road game,” Brown said. “They’re going to have to have a better start and play overall a better game. I feel like they’re going to come ready, so we’ll have to be ready as well.”
In all three conference losses — against Georgia and at Vanderbilt and LSU — the Tigers broke from the gate slowly, and Kentucky is more talented than any of those teams.
3. Handle Randle
Even though he’s a freshman, Julius Randle is the alpha dog for Kentucky.
There’s considerably more talent around Randle than surrounding Alabama senior Trevor Releford, but Missouri managed to crush the Crimson Tide’s psyche by bottling up the Bishop Miege grad.
The Tigers have to hope its “six-eyes defense” can fluster Randle, too.
“We have to have great team defense against him,” Haith said. “No one guy is going to stop him. We’ve got to have an awareness where he’s at in terms of keeping him off the offensive glass and have a great team effort to defend him, because he scores in a lot of different ways.”
If you’re wondering, Haith also talked about sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein, a 7-footer who graduated from Olathe Northwest.
“Cauley-Stein, he gave us problems last year with his length,” Haith said. “We played down there and he made some huge plays. He’s the kind of guy that can affect the game in so many ways without scoring points, because of his length and his athleticism and how well he moves his feet.”