Kentucky notched another win midweek against Vanderbilt, but the contest was far closer than it should have been against the bottom team in the SEC. It took overtime for the No. 21 Wildcats to eke out an 83-81 victory and it will be interesting to see if that extra basketball takes its toll as Kentucky travels to Columbia to take on Missouri this Saturday.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Treat this as a big game
It was probably only fair to expect something of a letdown performance against Vanderbilt. Kentucky was coming off of that emotional and hard-fought game against West Virginia on the road, the one where they had to storm back from down 17 in the second half to beat a top 10 opponent. It is hard to turn around from that and get hyped up to play the worst team in your own conference.
The best thing we can say about the Vandy game was that the Wildcat escaped with a win. Now coach John Calipari has to figure out how to channel the epic consistency of the second half performance against West Virginia and motivate his troops to play at that level every time out. That should start with this road game against Mizzou.
Keep affecting shots
Kentucky doesn’t force a lot of turnovers defensively. The Wildcats just don’t play the game that way with Calipari preferring to use the size and length of his team to get in the faces of shooters as opposed to chasing the ball all over the court swiping away and risking giving away needless fouls.
That means that the Wildcats have to bother shots to play good defense. The best aspect of that is that Missouri is not good at getting off shots cleanly. In a matchup of two teams that are generally pretty similar across the board, the biggest single statistical advantage is that of Kentucky when it comes to blocking shots. The Wildcats are 19th in the nation with a block percentage of 14.8, while Missouri has an offensive shots blocked percentage at 12.9, which is 341st in the country.
Stop Missouri shooting the three-ball
Missouri is a limited team offensively. This is especially true when freshman center Jeremiah Tilmon is off the court with foul trouble, as he invariably is at some point. Without him in the game the Tigers have nothing in terms of offensive production in the paint, so they will be jacking up three-pointers to try to stay in the game.
The Wildcats have been very good against three-point shooting teams this season They hold opponents to just 28.8 percent from behind the arc as the Wildcats have so much length to bother shooters whether playing man or zone. Maintaining this defensive rate against Mizzou will be enough to secure a win.