Coming off back-to-back overtime wins to open SEC play, the top-ranked Wildcats looked more like the dominant force they were prior to the new year in a 86-37 thrashing of Missouri at Rupp Arena.
Kentucky (16-0, 3-0 SEC) went back to its full 10-man, two-platoon system against the Tigers, with encouraging results. Sophomore guard Dominique Hawkins moved into the starting lineup – the Blue platoon – while Trey Lyles moved down to the White platoon to provide it with more size and firepower.
It helped produce a far more characteristic defensive and rebounding effort from the Cats. UK held Missouri (7-9, 1-2 SEC) to 27 percent from the field and dominated the glass to a 46-27 count. The Big Blue had a 25-8 edge in second-chance points.
"We went in with an idea for each platoon. If you gave up more than six points (in a segment), you were out, so you weren't going to get your full minutes,” UK coach John Calipari said. "And if you really played and you had that, you could sustain it, we would give you more minutes than the four minutes.
"… So we're trying to challenge them with different things to keep them motivated to play. And it's really to play defense. We're a defensive team. That's what we are."
The improved defense also sparked better offense. Sophomore guard Aaron Harrison went 5-for-7 from behind the arc and led the Cats with 16 points. Junior center Willie Cauley-Stein followed with 13 points, while freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns added 12 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots.
Kentucky used a 20-2 run midway through the first half to break the game open. The Cats led 44-18 at halftime.
"This is what kind of scared me coming in," Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. "I knew (UK) hadn’t played great the last couple of games, and I knew they were really going to come out playing hard."
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some of the day's highs and lows:
WHAT WE LIKED: Kentucky responded well to challenges from both its coach and the national media, which was starting to question whether the Wildcats were really the dominant team everyone thought they were at the beginning of the season. Vulnerable? Try telling that to Mizzou coach Kim Anderson. Calipari’s decision to go back to his Blue and White platoons appeared to help as the Cats displayed much more energy on the defensive end of the floor and held the Tigers to 37 points, the program's lowest total in a game since 1959.
KEY MOMENT: It may have come Sunday when Calipari informed Hawkins that he would move into the starting lineup. Inserting Hawkins appeared to give the Cats a needed energy boost in their best defensive performance since the Louisville game.
STAT OF THE DAY: Williams came in averaging 13.7 points per game for Missouri, but was held to 1-for-13 shooting from the field by a revolving cast of UK defenders.
QUOTABLE:"The platoon got us back to being into each other and celebrating each other. Now we got to build on this.” – UK coach John Calipari.