Kentucky hadn’t played like the No. 1 team in the nation during its first two SEC games.
But the Wildcats looked every bit like a top-ranked juggernaut during a 86-37 victory over Missouri on Tuesday night at Rupp Arena.
“They came out and physically controlled us from the start …,” Tigers coach Kim Anderson said. “Coming in, I knew they hadn’t played great the last couple games, so I know they were really going to come at us.”
Boy, did Kentucky ever come at Missouri.
The 37 points were the Tigers’ fewest since a 41-36 loss at Oklahoma on Jan. 9, 1950. It’s also the fewest points the Wildcats have allowed in an SEC game since 1987 and the largest margin of victory in a conference game since 2003.
“Their defense forced us to panic a little bit … offensively, and we were on our heels,” Anderson said. “But they played really physical.”
Before the game, Anderson said the Tigers — who have lost seven straight games against No. 1 teams, dating back to a 96-94 double-overtime win Feb. 4, 1997, against Kansas — needed to rebound well and make perimeter shots to have a chance.
Missouri, 7-9 overall and 1-2 in the SEC, did neither in absorbing its worst loss since a 55-point beating at the hands of Kansas State in 1998.
The Tigers shot 27.1 percent from the field, including one of 18 from three-point range, and were outrebounded 46-27 by Kentucky, 16-0 and 3-0.
“I thought we really tried to force stuff … ,” Anderson said. “We had some guys that, when they got a little run going, then we tried to force it, we didn’t execute, we didn’t do what we needed to do.”
Missouri’s only three-pointer — a splash from sophomore Wes Clark, who tied for the team high in scoring with 10 points — didn’t come until the 13:36 mark in the second half. By then, the game was already out of hand.
“We wanted to take away their threes,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “That was the whole game plan. … And let me say this: They got what UCLA and Kansas got. That’s what they got, that effort. … So, you can what you want, they played a buzz saw today.”
Calipari went away from a platoon system after Alex Poythress suffered a season-ending knee injury, but he went back to the line-change style after being pushed to overtime by Mississippi and double overtime by Texas A&M during the Wildcats’ first two conference games.
Sophomore guard Dominique Hawkins, who hadn’t played in the Wildcats’ last three games since a lopsided win Dec. 20 against UCLA, got the start.
“I thought our defensive intensity, because of the platoons, was back to where it was,” Calipari said.
Missouri dropped to 0-7 all time against the Wildcats, including four losses in Lexington.
Kentucky, a 24-point favorite at tipoff, led 44-18 at halftime.
The Wildcats went 12 of 17 from the free-throw line in the first half, while the Tigers didn’t attempt a free throw, had six shots blocked and lost the rebounding battle 22-13.
Still, Missouri trailed only 12-10 after senior Keanau Post, who had 10 points and a team-high six rebounds, banked in a baby hook off an offensive rebound with 13:39 remaining.
What followed was downright ugly as the Tigers managed the fewest first-half points since scoring 16 before halftime in a 62-60 win against Kansas on Feb. 9, 2009.
Kentucky seized control with a 12-0 run and tacked on eight more points in a row after a put-back dunk by Tigers freshman Jakeenan Gant.
The Tigers never again drew closer than 12 points as the Wildcats scored 32 of the final 40 points closing the first half.
Kentucky sophomore Aaron Harrison led all scorers with 16 points, including five three-pointers, Freshman Karl-Anthony Towns added 12 points and had game highs with 10 rebounds and five blocks.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @todpalmer.