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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, February 23, 9 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Rupp Arena (23,500) -- Lexington, Kentucky. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Missouri 15-0, UK 13-2. Away Record: Missouri 1-6, UK 4-5. Neutral Record: Missouri 3-1, UK 1-1. Conference Record: Missouri 8-5, UK 9-4. Series Record: Kentucky leads, 4-0.
GAME NOTES: A pair of teams nipping at the heels of the SEC leaders square off on Saturday night, as the Kentucky Wildcats welcome the Missouri Tigers to legendary Rupp Arena.
Missouri is fresh off its most impressive win of the season, as it defeated fifth-ranked Florida on Tuesday night, 63-60, to improve to 19-7 overall and 8-5 in the SEC. Much of the Tigers' success this season has come thanks to its undefeated mark at Mizzou Arena (15-0), but they have run into significantly more trouble away from home, winning just one of seven true road matchups.
Kentucky entered Wednesday's tilt with Vanderbilt having lost two straight for the first time all season, and while it suffered a scare late in the contest, it ultimately held off the Commodores, 74-70. The Wildcats' season (18-8, 9-4) would be considered impressive by most programs' standards, but the campaign has been a disappointment for a team with such high preseason expectations.
Kentucky has beaten Missouri in all four previous meetings, the most recent of which took place in 1999.
The Tigers trailed for virtually the entire game on Tuesday night, including by 13 points with under 11 minutes to play, but they battled all the way back and took control on a Laurence Bowers jumper at the 1:15 mark to lift his team to victory over first-place Florida. Missouri was slowed by the stout UF defense, as it shot less than 44 percent from the field and committed 19 turnovers. Fortunately, Mizzou held the Gators to just 40.7 percent shooting and won the rebounding battle, 40-28. Bowers finished with a double-double consisting of 17 points and 10 rebounds, Phil Pressey handed out 10 assists and logged three steals, and Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross poured in 12 and 11 points, respectively. On the season, Missouri nets a stellar 76.0 ppg and boasts one of the best rebounding margins in the nation (+10.2). The Tigers' strength in the frontcourt comes thanks to the strong play of Bowers (14.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.1 bpg), Ross (10.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Alex Oriakhi (10.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.6 bpg). Pressey (11.8 ppg) is one of the top floor generals in the nation, handing out 6.9 apg. Rounding out one of the deepest scoring rotations around is Brown (14.5 ppg) and Keion Bell (11.6 ppg).
The Wildcats appeared to be in good shape up by 13 with less than eight minutes to play, and although Vanderbilt got within one possession following a 10-0 run, Kentucky would hold on for the win. Plugging into the starting lineup for injured superstar Nerlens Noel was Willie Cauley-Stein, who notched a career-best performance with 20 points (on 8-of-10 from the field), seven rebounds and three blocks. Archie Goodwin (16 points) and Ryan Harrow (12 points) were also strong for UK, which made up for a lackluster showing from the foul line (12-of-21) by shooting 51.8 percent from the field. Even without Noel (10.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 4.4 bpg, 2.1 spg), who will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL, the Wildcats still have plenty of talent, with Goodwin (13.7 ppg), Kyle Wiltjer (11.6 ppg) and Alex Poythress (11.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg) the top scoring options. Harrow (9.5 ppg), Julius Mays (9.4 ppg) and Cauley-Stein (8.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.7 bpg) are also crucial to the depth for UK, which nets greater than 10 ppg more at the offensive end (74.3 ppg) than it allows to foes (64.0 ppg).
Even with Noel in the lineup, Kentucky was underachieving, and without him its status as an at-large selection for the NCAA Tournament field is far from certain. All things considered, Missouri appears to be in better shape at this point in the season, but the Tigers have not been strong away from home, which gives the Wildcats the slight edge to win their second straight game.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Kentucky 77, Missouri 75
02/23 10:42:56 ET
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