Missouri was more competitive Thursday against No. 1 Kentucky, but ultimately the Tigers still were overmatched in a 69-53 loss at Mizzou Arena.
The top-ranked Wildcats, 20-0 and 7-0 in the SEC, only led by nine points at halftime, but they never let the Tigers get closer than six points in the second half of a foul-filled contest.
“We obviously don’t play Kentucky very well, but I thought we battled,” first-year Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. “I thought we fought. We just couldn’t handle their size. They did a great job of getting the ball inside and we fouled. We fouled way too much.”
Between the two teams, there were 54 fouls called, the most in an MU game this season, including 21 whistles against the Tigers in the second half.
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The Wildcats feasted at the free-throw line in the second, where coach John Calipari’s squad scored 20 of its 35 second-half points in pulling away.
“They’re the No. 1 team in the country, and I certainly can see why, but I was proud of our guys,” Anderson said. “We hung, we fought, we clawed and hopefully we’ll get better from this experience.”
Missouri, 7-13 and 1-6 in conference, had three players — senior forward Keanau Post and freshmen guards Montaque Gill-Caesar and Namon Wright — foul out.
The Tigers — whose 49-point loss Jan. 13 at Rupp Arena was the third-worst in program history — never trailed by more than 20 points in the rematch.
“We lost by 50 there,” said sophomore guard Wes Clark, who scored a game-high 19 points. “We only lost by 16 tonight — better effort, but still not where we need to be.”
It was Clark’s jumper near the 15-minute mark in the second half that pulled the Tigers within 36-30. He added another jumper one minute later that kept it a six-point game before an 18-4 Wildcats run.
Kentucy sophomore guard Andrew Harrison, who scored a game-high 15 points, notched Kentucky’s first eight points during the decisive outburst, which also included four points from freshman Devin Booker and a three-pointer by Harrison’s twin brother, Aaron.
“They made a little run there in the second half … but all I can ask is these guys keep fighting and that’s what they do, that’s what they’ve done,” Anderson said. “It’s not always pretty, but, man, they didn’t quit and kept fighting. I’m tired of losing, but I’m pleased that we’re still fighting.”
The closest Missouri, which has lost six straight games for the first time since 2005-06, got the rest of the way was 14 points.
During the season’s first meeting at Kentucky, Missouri trailed by 26 points — 44-18 — at halftime.
The Tigers’ halftime deficit on Thursday night was much more manageable, 34-25, in front of 13,034 at Mizzou Arena.
Midway through the first half, Clark hit back-to-back three-pointers that gave the Tigers a lead against the No. 1 Wildcats.
Clark’s second three staked Missouri to a 13-12 lead with 9:33 remaining before halftime.
Post injected life into Mizzou Arena with a dunk off a feed from freshman guard Tramaine Isabell.
Post brought Tigers fans to their feet again with a rejection at the rim when Kentucky’s Booker, the son of former MU star Melvin Booker, tried to glide in for his own dunk on the next possession.
Even Missouri junior Ryan Rosburg got into the act with a pair of dunks, gathering a bounce pass from Clark for a two-handed jam with 6:07 remaining and slamming home another with 2:43 remaining.
Rosburg finished with eight points, the most he’s scored since scoring nine against Chaminade in the seventh-place game at the Maui Invitational.
“It was great to see Ryan go in and play well,” Anderson said.
Missouri only trailed 22-21 after Rosburg’s first dunk before Kentucky closed the half on a 12-4 run.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @todpalmer.