Columbia, MO (SportsNetwork.com) - Continuing their run at perfection, the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats close out a two-game road trip on Thursday night, as they meet the Missouri Tigers in an SEC showdown at Mizzou Arena.
John Calipari's Wildcats are one of just two unbeatens left in the country, with No. 2 Virginia being the other. Kentucky is off to its third-best start in school history at 19-0, tying the 2009-10 squad. The team is coming off a 58-43 win at South Carolina last weekend to improve to 6-0 in the SEC.
Kim Anderson's Tigers have struggled all season long and SEC play has not provided any relief. Missouri is a mere 7-12 on the season and enters this contest with an ugly five-game losing streak in tow, The team almost ended the skid on Saturday, but fell at home to Arkansas, 61-60. With the loss, Missouri is just 1-5 in conference play, just outside the league basement, currently inhabited by South Carolina (1-6) and Vanderbilt (1-6).
These two teams met on Jan. 13 at Rupp Arena, as Kentucky thoroughly whipped Missouri in a 86-37 romp. This is just the eighth all-time meeting in the series, with Kentucky sporting a perfect 7-0 mark against Missouri.
The Wildcats didn't need much offense in the win over South Carolina, as they put on yet another defensive clinic in limiting the Gamecocks to a mere 43 points on an anemic .226 shooting effort. In addition, Kentucky blocked nine shots in the game. Devin Booker led the way offensively, posting 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Aaron Harrison tacked on 13 points for Kentucky, which shot an efficient .462 from the field.
Defense is the name of the game in Lexington this season. Not many teams are doing it better than Kentucky, which ranks second in scoring defense (50.4 ppg) and first in both field-goal percentage defense (.317) and blocked shots (155 - 8.2 per game). There aren't any gaudy scoring averages on the roster, but there doesn't have to be with a +24.2 scoring margin (first nationally). Aaron Harrison tops the team with a modest 11.6 ppg. Booker is also in double figures at 10.8 ppg, with Willie Cauley-Stein (9.1 ppg), Dakari Johnson (8.2 ppg) and Karl-Anthony Towns (8.1 ppg) just below the mark.
The Tigers gave the Razorbacks all they could handle this past weekend and had one of the nation's top offensive squads on the ropes, before dropping the one-point decision. Montaque Gill-Caesar led the way in defeat, coming off the bench to tally 16 points. Jonathan Williams III had a big game as well, recording a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Keith Shamburger finished with 10 points for Missouri, which kept things close despite shooting a mere .397 from the floor in the game.
Missouri has struggled to find offense this season, entering this contest averaging a mere 63.2 ppg. With the Tigers allowing 68.1 ppg, the -4.9 scoring margin is problematic. The team has had consistency problems in other areas as well, holding negative margins in both rebounding (-2.4) and turnovers (-1.5). Williams is the top playmaker on the roster, as the 6-9 sophomore paces Missouri in both scoring (12.6 ppg) and rebounding (7.1 rpg). Gill-Caesar is shooting well under 40 percent from the field (.368) but does post 10.8 ppg. Limited scoring depth comes in the form of Wes Clark (9.6 ppg) and Shamburger (8.6 ppg).