LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Call it swagger, mojo or simple confidence, top-ranked Kentucky displayed it often against Missouri.
The Wildcats’ defense was especially impressive, holding the Tigers to a season-low 27 percent shooting. That created a lot of offensive chances and Aaron Harrison took full advantage with five 3-pointers and 16 points, helping Kentucky finally earn a conference victory in regulation by drilling Missouri 86-37 on Tuesday night.
That assured that the Wildcats would go home early for a change after needing overtime to beat Mississippi and Texas A&M by nine total points. Kentucky (16-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) had the overmatched Tigers (7-9, 1-2) under control by halftime with a 44-18 lead.
The margin eventually reached 49 in the final minute as the Wildcats rolled to their most decisive outcome since last month’s 39-point rout of UCLA.
“We needed to have a win where we could get our swag back a little bit,” coach John Calipari said. “It was all based on an effort and an intensity and we never let up. We never let up through the clock and through the game.”
Harrison played a big role in that by making most of the Wildcats’ eight long-range baskets. It was the second time in three games he has made at least five from behind the arc.
“It felt pretty good to knock down a couple,” Harrison said.
Willie Cauley-Stein added 13 points and Karl-Anthony Towns 12 with 10 rebounds and five blocks as Kentucky shot 48 percent from the field. The Wildcats also outrebounded the Tigers 46-27 including 30 defensive boards.
Missouri’s starters meanwhile combined for just 27 points on 11-of-44 shooting. Wes Clark and reserve Keanu Post each had 10 points for the Tigers, who lost their second straight.
“Great performance by Kentucky, we didn’t play well,” Tigers coach Kim Anderson said. “I thought they came out and physically controlled us from the start.”
Kentucky improved to 7-0 against Missouri and earned a big win over the Tigers after close outcomes the past two seasons.
Most important for the Wildcats was reclaiming the swagger that had been missing in those close SEC wins. Though Calipari was happy with his team’s resolve in gutting out those wins, he declared Monday that “enough is enough” and wanted his team to get back to dominating opponents.
Doing so required some lineup tweaks as Calipari started sophomore guard Dominique Hawkins in a quest for energy and defense. The defensive specialist finished with six points, three assists and two steals in 20 minutes.
“I was really excited, but kind of nervous,” Hawkins said of starting for the first time since against Montana State in November. “I started off really good and coach (Calipari) liked what I was doing.”
Kentucky earned a big halftime lead as a result, a big improvement from recent efforts that exposed vulnerabilities — especially on defense.
Shooting had been another concern since SEC play started for the Wildcats, who entered the game better from behind the arc (20 of 48, 42 percent) the past two games than inside (31 percent).
That wasn’t an issue as Kentucky made 19 of 38 (50 percent) inside the line with Cauley-Stein even making a jumper that got a big cheer from 24,248 who came out for the late-evening start.
ONE FOR THE BOOKS
The Tigers’ points were their fewest since a 41-36 loss at Oklahoma on Jan. 9, 1950. It was also Missouri’s largest loss since a 111-56 rout at Kansas State on Jan. 3, 1998.
Missouri: Leading scorer Johnathan Williams III had just three points on 1-of-13 shooting.
Kentucky: The Wildcats’ 37 points allowed is the fewest by an SEC opponent since their 50-36 win over Mississippi State on Jan. 31, 1987. … The victory margin was their largest since beating Vanderbilt 106-44 in March 2003.
Missouri hosts Tennessee on Saturday.
Kentucky travels to Alabama on Saturday evening.
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