COLUMBIA, Mo. — In a 69-53 victory Thursday night, Kentucky gave Missouri Coach Kim Anderson another reason to bestow what he considers a high compliment.
UK's performance was no thing of beauty. How could it be with the teams combining for more than twice as many fouls (35) as baskets (15) in the second half?
Yet, Kentucky rolled on to a 20th straight victory, giving the Cats the third-best start to a season in the proud program's history.
"They believe they're going to win," Anderson said of the Cats earlier in the week. "That's a great trait to have."
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Improving to 7-0 in the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky led almost the entire game. The Cats took the lead for good with 7:16 left in the first half, which meant they've trailed after halftime only four times all season.
"I guess that's the M.O.," UK Coach John Calipari said. "(Be) really physical. Body to body."
Missouri, which lost a sixth straight game to fall to 7-13 overall and 1-6 in the SEC, acknowledged as much.
"Down there (in Lexington), we weren't physical at all," Anderson said. "I thought we were tentative. Here, we talked all week of being aggressive (and) being physical. I thought we did."
All the fouls helped accentuate Kentucky's depth.
"What a great collection of great players," Anderson said. "There's no real weaknesses."
Andrew and Aaron Harrison led Kentucky with 15 and 11 points, respectively. For Andrew, it was one point shy of a season high (16 against Grand Canyon).
Calipari attributed Andrew's productive game to one factor. "More confidence," he said.
In something of a homecoming, Devin Booker struggled. He failed to make a three-point shot for only the second time since Dec. 7, and scored nine points. Booker, whose father played for Missouri, was booed each time he touched the ball.
"I should have recognized he'd struggle in this venue," Calipari said.
Tellingly, Kentucky won without its hottest shooter making a three. Anderson marveled how UK won while making only two three-point shots.
"They're 20-0 for a reason," the Missouri coach said.
Only two weeks earlier, Kentucky embarrassed a rebuilding Missouri team in an 86-37 rout.
Then, Missouri's leading scorer, Johnathan Williams III, made only one of 13 shots. He fared better in the rematch, scoring 10 points.
"When you play Kentucky, it's a little different deal," Anderson said. "Not just one guy 6-10. There's three guys 6-10. There are things you can do against other teams that you can get away with that you can't do against Kentucky. You have to be careful when you drive to the basket."
Compared to the game in Rupp Arena two weeks earlier, Kentucky struggled mightily in the first half. But everything is relative for a UK team that, as assistant coach John Robic once suggested, can put up "silly" numbers.
UK led 34-25 at the break.
The Cats appeared headed to their eighth wire-to-wire victory. Kentucky scored the game's first six points. Mizzou did not put up a credible shot in the first three minutes.
Dominique Hawkins got the good start going with a three-pointer. He had made only two (in 11 attempts) previously this season.
But another rout failed to materialize.
Williams matched the only basket he made in Lexington with a three-pointer at the 16:20 mark. That was Missouri's first points.
Wes Clark, who missed two free throws with 3.3 seconds left in a one-point loss to Arkansas on Saturday, gave Missouri its first lead by making back-to-back three-pointers from the top of the key. The second put the Tigers ahead 13-12 and prompted a UK timeout with 9:33 left.
Missouri matched that one-point lead two more times. Making good use of the pick-and-roll, Ryan Rosburg scored six points in the first half.
That surpassed the five points he'd scored earlier this month and eased any anxiety caused by starting center Keanau Post's two fouls inside the first nine minutes.
Post made his presence felt early and thrilled Missouri fans by blocking Booker's attempt at a raring-back, one-handed dunk on the fast break.
Ultimately, Kentucky had too many players.
Karl-Anthony Towns set the halftime score by posting up for a basket in the final second. That capped his unusually active presence in the low post.
Missouri refused to go away early in the second half, but the game continued to indicate a UK victory.
Tellingly, Post picked up his third foul on the first possession of the second half and went to the bench. Rosburg, who came into the game averaging 2.4 points and 3.1 rebounds, took his place.
When Marcus Lee picked up his fourth foul at the 17:03 mark, Kentucky put in a player who made the All-SEC defensive team last season and is widely viewed as a first-round pick in this year's NBA Draft: Willie Cauley-Stein.
Depth loomed large as the fouls quickly mounted. Less than five minutes into the second half, the referees had whistled Missouri for seven fouls and Kentucky six.
In the first 11 minutes of the second half, the teams combined for seven baskets and 24 fouls.