COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The way his team rolled over Missouri when they met a couple weeks ago, Kentucky coach John Calipari anticipated the Tigers throwing a few haymakers in the rematch.
They wound up playing so physical that three Tigers fouled out.
The top-ranked Wildcats took advantage of their parade to the foul line, too, racking up free points during a decisive second-half run that gave them a 69-53 victory Thursday night.
“It’s going to be like you saw today. We just have to play through the physical play,” said Calipari, whose team waxed the Tigers by 49 points on Jan. 13. “You don’t beat somebody like we did there and — they came back and played like I would have expected them to play.”
In other words, a whole lot better. But still not good enough.
Andrew Harrison had 15 points and twin brother Aaron Harrison had 11 for the Wildcats, who improved to 20-0 for the third time in school history. They are just five wins away from matching the record start achieved by Adolph Rupp’s team in 1953-54.
As usual, Kentucky (7-0 SEC) won with defense. Missouri turned the ball over 15 times and shot just 38 percent from the field in the second half, when the game was largely decided.
“We beat them pretty bad last time,” Andrew Harrison acknowledged, “but we know they’re a better team than they played at Rupp, so we had to come in and play as hard as we could.”
Wes Clark scored 19 points for the Tigers (7-13, 1-6), who have lost six straight for the first time since 2006. Johnathan Williams III added 10 points and five rebounds.
Five players fouled out in the mucky game, resulting in a combined 57 free throws.
“I’m not happy losing, but we played a lot better,” Tigers coach Kim Anderson said. “All I can ask is these guys keep fighting, and that’s what they do, that’s what they’ve done. And it’s not always pretty, but they didn’t quit. They kept fighting.”
The Tigers looked game for most of the first half Thursday night.
Milking the clock with crisp ball movement, Missouri was able to crack Kentucky’s long and lean front line for easy baskets. Keanau Post started it with a rim-rattling dunk a few minutes in, and a pair of dunks by Ryan Rosburg had the fans in Mizzou Arena on their feet. Another dunk by Jakeenan Gant late in the half allowed the Tigers to close within 32-25.
The Wildcats struggled some more early in the second half, throwing up a series of ugly jumpers and missing a couple shots at the rim. Missouri struggled to take advantage, but did close within 38-32 on Clark’s basket with 14:25 to go.
Foul trouble began to set in, though, with Namon Wright and Montaque Gill-Caesar each picking up their fourth with more than 15 minutes left in the game. The Wildcats, with more quality depth, were able to capitalize on their absences and put together a 10-2 run to gain control.
The Harrison twins led the way. Aaron knocked down a jumper, and after Andrew did the same, he proceeded to the foul line on the next four trips down the floor.
Wright fouled out with 8:52 to go. Gill-Caesar joined him less than a minute later. And by the time the Wildcats had hit those free throws, their lead had swelled to 56-36.
The Wildcats cruised from there, running their overall against Missouri to 8-0.
“We lost by 50 there, we only lost by 16 tonight,” Clark said, shaking his head. “Better effort, but we still got beat.”
Kentucky only hit two 3-pointers, one each from Aaron Harrison and Dominique Hawkins. The Tigers only hit four from the arc, three of those from Clark. The majority of the game was played in the paint, where the teams combined for 48 points.
The Wildcats were tops nationally with 155 blocks coming in. Karl-Anthony Towns had the only swat of the smaller Tigers on Thursday night.
Kentucky: Devin Booker had nine points against his father Melvin’s alma mater. He was booed every time he touched the ball. … Towns and Marcus Lee fouled out for the Wildcats.
Missouri: Post also fouled out for the Tigers. … Missouri fell to 4-18 against No. 1-ranked teams. Their last victory came against former rival Kansas in 1997.
Kentucky: returns to Rupp Arena to face Alabama on Saturday.
Missouri: wraps a three-game homestand against Ole Miss on Saturday.
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