UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky continues uptick with another blowout of Missouri

Kentucky's Calipari: 'Putting Derek Willis in the role he's in, it's changed us'

UK's basketball season is on an upward arc since junior Derek Willis became a fixture on the floor for the Wildcats.
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UK's basketball season is on an upward arc since junior Derek Willis became a fixture on the floor for the Wildcats.

Something about Missouri brings out the best in Kentucky. And maybe something about Kentucky brings out the worst in Missouri.

For a second straight season, Kentucky routed Missouri in Rupp Arena. The score Wednesday night was 88-54.

Kentucky played with “an incredible amount of energy,” Missouri Coach Kim Anderson said. “Reminds me a lot of last year’s game.”

Maybe more important than a beat-down similar to UK’s avert-your-eyes 86-37 victory against Missouri here last season, the Cats expanded on last week’s performance uptick.

“We’re playing desperate, now,” UK Coach John Calipari said. “We’re playing with an attitude. Refuse to lose.”

Five UK players scored double-digit points. Tyler Ulis and Derek Willis led the way with 20 and 18 points, respectively.

Kentucky’s better-and-better included:

Isaiah Briscoe, who made five of six free throws en route to a 15-point night.

Skal Labissiere, whose 12 points were his most in exactly two months (or since he scored 17 at South Florida on Nov. 27).

Jamal Murray, whose busy night included 11 points, a career-high nine rebounds, two assists and two steals. “It may have been his best game all around,” Calipari said.

Calipari cited Willis as the difference maker in Kentucky’s recent surge.

“A big part of it is putting Derek Willis in a (prominent) role,” the UK coach said. “It changed us.”

Because opponents must respect Willis as a perimeter shooter, defenses cannot sag into the lane. That creates room for UK’s star guards to operate.

When told of Calipari’s praise, Willis deferred. “I don’t think that’s it,” he said. “A lot of it is Tyler, too. He has a bigger role than me, easily.”

Kentucky improved to 16-4 overall and 6-2 in the Southeastern Conference. With Texas A&M losing at Arkansas, the Cats moved within a game of first place.

Missouri, which lost a 21st straight road game, fell to 8-12 overall and 1-6 in the SEC.

Kentucky wasted no time in dispatching Missouri. The Cats scored on their first eight trips downcourt. That established a 20-2 lead inside the first five minutes.

“They completely dominated,” Anderson said. “We had no answer. We had no answer for anybody for a long time.”

In that span, Missouri twice tried to stem the Blue tidal wave with timeouts. A television timeout provided a third opportunity to blunt UK’s momentum.

Kentucky kept pouring it on. The Cats scored on 11 of their first 12 trips downcourt, and 20 of the first 28 in a breathtaking display of efficiency.

“I thought they really, really executed well,” Anderson said.

The UK lead grew steadily like the drifts produced by last Friday’s storm.

Even with a we’re-only-human final four minutes in which Kentucky scored on “only” two of seven trips downcourt, the halftime lead of 47-20 marked UK’s largest margin of the season. The previous high was a 46-22 lead over Ole Miss.

Willis and Ulis led the way. Willis ensured himself a third straight game with double-figure points with 11 in the first half.

Three of UK’s first seven baskets were three-pointers by Willis. That gave him nine points by the 15:32 mark of the first half. In his career, he had fewer points in 46 games.

Ulis did not stay hot as much as simply continue his steady play. He scored a team-high 12 points in the first half. That meant he’d have double-digit points a 10th time in the last 11 games.

“Ulis just controls the game,” Anderson said. “He just takes over the game.”

Kentucky came into the game ranked 290th in the nation with an average of 5.6 three-point baskets per game. Willis and Ulis made their five before the second TV timeout.

Labissiere joined the party. Showing again that facing the basket agrees with him, he hit three jumpers in an eight-point first half.

“I probably screwed him up,” Calipari said of the repeated attempts earlier this season to make Labissiere a low-post player. “I tried to make him Karl Towns.”

Missouri did not come close to matching Kentucky’s efficiency. While Kentucky scored on its first eight trips downcourt, the Tigers only scored on eight trips downcourt the entire half.

Even with the big lead and facing an opponent with the second-worst Ratings Percentage Index among SEC teams (No. 168), nothing changed after halftime. Kentucky scored on nine of its first 12 trips downcourt. That expanded the lead to 67-27 with 12:03 left.

Labissiere, who started the second half, flexed his new-found presence. After blocking guard Namon Wright’s driving shot out of bounds, Labissiere pounded his right fist to his chest.

Kentucky and the Rupp crowd leavened another encouraging sign with humor. The crowd cheered when Briscoe made the first of two free throws with 13:48 left. Then Briscoe, who had made only six of 27 free throws in the last 11 games, made the second. That produced a roar from the crowd and a smile on Briscoe’s face as he retreated downcourt.

And as if to check every box, Labissiere posted up for a score with 6:11 left.

Said Calipari of the challenge Missouri faced, “They got the buzz saw.”

No. 20 KENTUCKY 88, MISSOURI 54

MISSOURI

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Puryear

19

4-7

2-2

1

0

1

10

Rosburg

11

1-3

0-1

1

0

1

2

Phillips

31

3-6

2-2

6

3

4

8

Wright

22

0-6

3-3

1

0

1

3

Clark

25

3-16

3-4

0

0

0

11

Allen

14

0-5

1-2

5

3

1

1

Walton

21

3-5

3-4

6

0

1

10

Barton

1

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

0

Gant

17

1-3

0-0

3

0

1

2

Woods

18

0-0

0-0

1

0

2

0

Wolf

1

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

0

VanLeer

20

3-6

0-1

1

1

3

7

Totals

200

18-57

14-19

28

7

15

54

Percentages: FG .316, FT .737. 3-Point Goals: 4-14, .286 (Clark 2-5, Walton 1-2, VanLeer 1-3, Allen 0-1, Gant 0-1, Wright 0-2). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 2 (Gant, Allen). Turnovers: 15 (Wright 4, Phillips 4, Clark 2, Puryear, Walton, VanLeer, Allen, Gant). Steals: 4 (Phillips 2, Clark, Gant). Technical Fouls: None.

KENTUCKY

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Poythress

21

2-5

4-4

7

1

1

8

Willis

25

6-9

2-2

12

1

0

18

Ulis

29

9-14

0-0

2

8

0

20

Briscoe

33

5-9

5-6

6

6

2

15

Murray

33

4-14

0-1

9

2

2

11

Lee

9

1-2

0-0

3

0

2

2

Labissiere

18

6-8

0-1

0

0

1

12

Matthews

17

1-2

0-0

3

0

0

2

David

1

0-1

0-0

0

0

1

0

Mulder

4

0-0

0-0

0

0

2

0

Humphries

7

0-0

0-0

1

0

1

0

Floreal

3

0-1

0-0

1

0

0

0

Totals

200

34-65

11-14

47

18

12

88

Percentages: FG .523, FT .786. 3-Point Goals: 9-20, .450 (Willis 4-5, Murray 3-8, Ulis 2-6, David 0-1). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 11 (Labissiere 5, Lee 3, Willis 2, Matthews). Turnovers: 11 (Ulis 3, Poythress 2, Labissiere 2, Willis 2, Lee, Floreal). Steals: 6 (Briscoe 2, Murray 2, Labissiere, Poythress). Technical Fouls: None.

Missouri

20

34

54

Kentucky

47

41

88

A—23,933. Officials—Anthony Jordan, Jeff Clark, Jeffrey Anderson.

Next game

No. 20 Kentucky at No. 4 Kansas

7 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)

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