Lexington, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - No longer the unanimous choice as the No. 1 team in the land, the Kentucky Wildcats will try to maintain their perfect record as they entertain the Missouri Tigers in SEC action on Tuesday night.
At 7-8, Missouri enters the fray a game below .500 on the season, but the team is 1-1 in league play after beating LSU in overtime in the opener, 74-67, but then falling at Auburn this past Saturday, 85-79. Mizzou has only won two of its last six games, and the Tigers are 0-2 in true road tests, 1-5 outside of Columbia all told when you factor in their 1-3 ledger in neutral-site affairs.
Kentucky has had its way with virtually every opponent it has faced this season, but Saturday's conference clash at Texas A&M proved to be extremely difficult as it took two overtime periods for the Wildcats to notch the 70-66 victory. As a result, UK is 15-0 overall, 2-0 in conference, with this season's effort matching the fifth-best start in school history. The 'Cats are one of only two teams with unblemished record at this point -- Virginia being the other.
Kentucky has never lost in six previous matchups with Missouri.
Keith Shamburger scored a season-high 21 points to go with six rebounds, and Wes Clark tacked on 16 points, but those efforts went for naught as Missouri dropped a six-point decision at Auburn over the weekend. Tramaine Isabell chipped in with 12 points and four assists for the visiting Tigers, who shot 44.3 percent from the floor, which included a 10-of-27 effort from 3-point range, and they finished 15-of-20 at the foul line as well. Auburn went 25- of-37 at the charity stripe while also knocking down 10 treys, and the home team committed only nine turnovers.
Missouri's primary issue this season has been its inability to light up the scoreboard, as it averages just 66.9 ppg behind typical shooting outputs of .428 overall, .361 from 3-point land and .675 at the free-throw line. The team boasts just two double-digit scorers in Johnathan Williams III (13.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and Montague Gill-Caesar (11.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg), although Clark (9.4 ppg) and Shamburger (9.1 ppg) are close to joining them. The Tigers have played well defensively at times, permitting 68.4 ppg with foes shooting just 41.8 percent from the field, which includes a 33.7 percent showing from downtown.
Kentucky shot a woeful 28.1 percent from the field in Saturday's close call at Texas A&M, but the Aggies managed just a 33.3 percent effort, which included a 2-of-15 showing from beyond the arc. Devin Booker came off the bench to tally 18 points for the Wildcats, who also got a double-digit performance from Aaron Harrison with 12 points, despite the starting guard going just 4-of-20 from the floor, which included a 2-of-13 effort from 3-point land. Karl-Anthony Towns nearly logged a double-double as he finished with nine points and nine rebounds. A 25-16 edge in points from the foul line played an integral role in Kentucky surviving the contest.
Save for the last two games in which they've had to go beyond regulation to claim victory, the Wildcats have had very little trouble disposing of their opponents this season, checking in with a scoring margin of +24.4, a rebounding edge of +9.2, and a turnover differential of +4.5. Balance is the key to UK's success, as nine players average at least 5.3 ppg, with Aaron Harrison leading the way with his 11.5 ppg. Booker is netting 10.7 ppg, while Willie Cauley-Stein turns in 9.5 points and 6.9 caroms per contest, and he has combined with Towns to swat a total of 63 shots. The Wildcats allow only 51.5 ppg, with foes shooting just 31.3 percent from the field, and 27.6 percent from beyond the arc.