During ESPN’s College GameDay, Rece Davis spoke about Missouri being 1-5 on the year in the SEC. He said Rupp Arena is not the place “to get your road warrior on”. Kentucky had the essential 6th man from the crowd Saturday night against Missouri. Lead by 24 points from Julius Mays, and 21 points from Alex Poythress, the ‘Cats held off the Tigers in overtime for the 90-83 win. Missouri’s Phil Pressey poured in 27 points, while Alex Oriakhi had 16 points and 15 rebounds in the losing effort. Pressey had a costly turnover in the closing minutes of overtime, and Oriakhi fouled out with the game still in question.
If you watched the 1st half, you would have thought that Missouri was just too much for the ‘Cats. The Tigers were having their way on the inside, scoring at will around the basket. Phil Pressey was simply beating guys off the dribble and hitting his open teammates for easy baskets. The ‘Cats were attacking and active, but the shots were just not falling. Missouri continued to build their lead up to 13 points, and left Kentucky looking for answers. The ‘Cats were getting beat off the dribble, repeatedly. Kyle Wiltjer was a no-show while getting burned on defense. Anyone in a Missouri jersey was too athletic for Wiltjer to guard on this night. Archie Goodwin looked to be having one of those games that saw him sitting on the bench. A couple of careless mistakes, along with 0 points and 3 turnovers had Goodwin riding the pine.
The play of Goodwin/Wiltjer were not the only things going wrong for Kentucky. They were being out-rebounded, and allowing Missouri to drive to the basket at will. Behind the play of Ryan Harrow and Alex Poythress, the ‘Cats went on a little run to close out the 1st half. Despite their troubles, the ‘Cats rallied behind a 9-0 run to pull the Tiger lead within 4 points. Missouri’s Phil Pressey comes down and nails a 3, but the ‘Cats respond. Just before the halftime buzzer, Willie Cauley-Stein got behind the defense and caught a deep pass for an easy slam. The ‘Cats trailed at the half 35-31, despite allowing Missouri 12 offensive rebounds and losing the overall rebounding battle 27-18. Harrow and Poythress lead the way for the ‘Cats with 12 and 10 points respectively. Willie Cauley-Stein only had 2 points, but added 5 rebounds and 4 blocks.
Archie Goodwin opened the 2nd half for the ‘Cats with a 3-pointer, a steal, dunk, then a jumper. Before that, Goodwin had made one 3 pointer in SEC play. He also had missed both of his shots on the night, along with 3 turnovers in the first half. He was due for an explosion, and he had his moment. Goodwin burst out of the gates in the second half with 7 quick points, but then picked up his 3rd foul with 17:14 to play. Kentucky as a team opened up the half making 7 of their first 8 shots, and quickly took a small lead from the Tigers. Give credit to Missouri for taking the punch, but keeping the fight. The Tigers and ‘Cats traded basket for basket before Archie Goodwin hits another three ball and gives the ‘Cats the 54-51 edge.
Alex Poythress continued to carve out space on the offensive end by using his body in the paint to score. Julius Mays was lighting it up for the ‘Cats on the outside. Kentucky stretched out it’s lead to a 7-point cushion before Missouri came clawing back again behind Phil Pressey. Just when the ‘Cats looked to clamp down and take a grip on the game, Pressey would make a huge shot and keep the Tigers within striking distance. Julius Mays came to the rescue again for the ‘Cats. He’s got a serious knack for beating the shot-clock and being the coach on the floor for John Calipari. Mays continued to match Pressey, and the game was too close to call. A huge problem for the ‘Cats has been free-throw shooting. In close games, all of your problems seem to rear their ugly heads. With the score 70-67, Archie Goodwin made one of two from the line to increase the UK lead to 4. After giving up a layup, committing a turnover, and giving up another layup, it’s 71-all with less than 2 minutes to play.
Did I mention Julius Mays came to the rescue? With 1:31 left on the clock, he pump faked Missouri’s Laurence Bowers in the air and got fouled on a 3-point shot. Bowers picked up his 5th foul and Mays went to the line and made 2 of 3. The crafty veteran they playfully call “Uncle Julius” was coming up big once again for these young ‘Cats. UK 73-71, and WCS gets hit with a foul trying to snatch the ball away on defense. 73-all after the Missouri free-throws. Pressey drives past the Kentucky defense for a layup to give the Tigers a 75-73 lead with :55.2 secs. left. If Kentucky loses at this point, you have to blame their 12-22 FT shooting. If Missouri wins, you have to give Phil Pressey SEC Player of the Week. Julius Mays just refused to let his ‘Cats lose. On the very next play, Mays finds Cauley-Stein deep in the post for an easy bucket to tie the game at 75 with :36.3 secs. left. Missouri’s Phil Pressey drove to the hoop, Poythress bothered him just enough for him to miss. Julius Mays gathered the rebound and sprinted down the court for the heave. Mays launched a three at the buzzer that bounced off the side of the rim, and Archie Goodwin was all alone under the basket for an easy two that would have won the game. The game goes into overtime tied at 75.
In the SEC’s 9th overtime period of the day, the ‘Cats opened up the extra stanza by watching Phil Pressey drive passed them for another layup. The ‘Cats looked to keep shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers on lob plays to nobody. Yet, Missouri could never answer and take a lead. In a 79-79 tie with 2:01 to play, Pressey rises and fires on a jumper that misses. Alex Poythress gets fed by Ryan Harrow in the post for an easy bucket. Pressey tried to answer back but got caught in the air between a shot and a pass. Poythress grabs the steal and gets fouled on the run-out, and he makes both free-throws to give UK the 83-79 lead. Pressey redeems himself a little by slicing down the lane again for another quick bucket to cut the lead back to two. Harrow gets fouled on the next possession after a near turnover, and the lead is 85-81 with :42.9 secs. left. Pressey tries to answer for Missouri, but his shot goes crying off the rim to Cauley-Stein. Mays gets fouled and makes two more at the line. Missouri misses, Mays goes back to the line and adds two more again. 89-81 UK with :20 secs. to go. Missouri would make another layup, and Goodwin would go 1 for 2 on FT’s. Kentucky 90-83, Ballgame.
The ‘Cats rack up a huge win at home versus Missouri. After a much maligned free-throw shooting night, the ‘Cats make 8 strait in the closing moments of overtime to seal the win. Another huge resume’ win, and a clutch performance from Julius Mays. Mays finished with 24 points, Alex Poythress had 21 points and 7 rebounds, Harrow chipped in with 18 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. Archie Goodwin scored all 18 of his points in the 2nd half, as the ‘Cats earn another hard fought win. The ‘Cats improve to 19-8 (10-4) on the year, and keep their NCAA Tournament dreams very much alive. Another great game from the guards, specifically Julius Mays. Alex Poythress was an absolute beast, and may have had his best game in a Kentucky uniform. Willie Cauley-Stein finished the night with 7 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 blocked shots. He played a big part on the defensive side for the ‘Cats.
A key stat that separates the 2nd half/OT from the 1st. The ‘Cats won the rebounding battle 23-12 in the 2nd half and OT versus losing in that stat by 9 at the end of the 1st. Kentucky won the overall rebounding battle 41-39, to help secure the victory. This was one of those gut it out games for the ‘Cats. They had a collective will to win, and got it done. A true, refuse to lose attitude. In the closing press conference, Missouri’s Frank Haith praised Kentucky on their toughness in the 2nd half. It’s been a long while since someone has mentioned toughness and Kentucky in the same sentence. The ‘Cats are finally getting some credit, where credit is due. Big win, great game, Go Big Blue!