Happier days were here again for Kentucky on Tuesday night. With a return to its dominating self, UK routed Missouri, 86-37.
Airtight defense and an inside-first offense overwhelmed Missouri and surely eased any anxiety left over from last week's overtime — overtime?! — victories over Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
Kentucky (16-0) breezed in giving Missouri its worst Southeastern Conference defeat (eclipsing an 83-52 blowout at Florida on Jan. 19, 2013). Kim Anderson became the seventh opposing coach this season to suffer his most lopsided loss at the hands of UK.
Kentucky held Missouri to its lowest point total in the era of the three-point basket and shot clock. Leading scorer Johnathan Williams III made only one of 13 shots. A player who had three double-doubles and 12 games scoring 10 or more points finished with a season-low three.
On offense, Kentucky went inside first, as evidenced by 28 points in the paint.
None of it surprised ESPN analyst Dick Vitale. Before the game, he voiced assurance that Kentucky would be undefeated going into the NCAA Tournament. He dismissed the close games against Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
"Sometimes you have those scares," he said. "They had the scares, but they survived the scares."
Vitale saw UK's victory at A&M despite making only 28.1 percent of its shots as telling.
"How many teams are going to win a game shooting 28 percent," Vitale said. "Think about that. How many teams win a game — on the road — shooting 28 percent. That tells you a little bit about them, as well."
Despite an undefeated record and No. 1 ranking all season, Kentucky gave its fans a scare in the Ole Miss and Texas A&M games. Vitale likened Kentucky basketball to such dynasties as Ohio State football, the New York Yankees and Duke. Such a storied history of success mandates a high standard.
Aaron Harrison led Kentucky with 16 points. Willie Cauley-Stein added 13 and Karl-Anthony Towns 12.
Missouri, which fell to 4-17 all-time against No. 1 teams, saw its record slip to 7-9. Wes Clark and Keanau Post led the Tigers with 10 points each.
Kentucky, which trailed at halftime in both games last week, dominated Missouri in the first half. En route to a 44-18 lead at intermission, the Cats held Mizzou to 9-for-29 shooting.
Leading scorer Williams (13.7 ppg) looked befuddled. He missed all 10 of his shots in the first half.
Keith Shamburger, who scored a season-high 21 points at Auburn last weekend, got off only three first-half shots. His first shot came with 4:16 left and reduced Kentucky's lead to 32-14.
Surprise starter Dominique Hawkins set the tone by guarding Shamburger to start the game. Shamburger, who was starting his 109th college game, took only three shots and scored two points in the half.
Shamburger's quiet first half followed big games by perimeter players last week. Stefan Moody of Ole Miss and Danuel House of Texas A&M each scored 25 points against Kentucky last week.
Offensively, Kentucky concentrated on going inside. The Cats took only five three-point shots in the first 15 minutes. UK took 13 in the first half at A&M.
The Cats exceeded the six points from the paint in the first half at A&M within the first eight minutes. Karl-Anthony Towns did it in memorable fashion. His one-hand putback dunk put Kentucky ahead 19-10 with 12:06 left. The play gave UK eight points from the paint on the way to 16 in the half. The Cats had only 14 in the A&M game, which included two overtime periods.
Kentucky remained true to its sense of team into the second half. The Cats used stout defense and inside-oriented offense to demoralize as well as defeat Missouri.