Kentucky may not have envisioned needing the best game of Bam Adebayo's young career on Tuesday night at Missouri, but it likely saved the No. 11 Wildcats.
The freshman center had a 22 points, a career-high 15 rebounds, and three blocked shots to help UK hold off the upset-minded Tigers, 72-62.
"I like our fight," UK head coach John Calipari said. "We went into Bam, and he got some stuff done... I'm proud of these guys. Hard to win on the road."
Adebayo went 6-of-9 from the field and 10-for-13 at the line. It marked the first 20-point, 10-rebound night of his UK career. His previous career scoring high was 25 points against Ole Miss on Dec. 29.
Kentucky (23-5, 13-2 SEC) remained in a first-place tie with Florida going into Saturday's showdown at Rupp Arena. Missouri dropped to 7-20 overall and 2-13 in league play.
Thanks to a career-high 22 points from sophomore guard Terrence Phillips and 13 from junior forward Jordan Barnett, the Tigers kept it close for most of the night. The heavily-favored Wildcats led by only one at the half and did not achieve a double-digit lead until a Derek Willis dunk with 1:42 left in the game.
In the end, there was just too much Adebayo and just enough of UK's other stars. De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk added 13 and 11 points, respectively, and accounted for nine of the Cats' final 12 points to secure the win.
Kentucky held Missouri to 37 percent (22 of 60) shooting from the field. The Tigers also hurt their chances by missing nine of 23 free-throw attempts.
The Cats shot 46 percent (24 of 52) and held a 44-31 rebounding advantage. Mizzou had only five second-chance points.
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the game...
WHAT WE LIKED:
Kentucky has intended to ride the powerful Adebayo on numerous occasions this season, but it never quite came together like it did on Tuesday. It was a strong scouting job by the UK staff, which knew Adebayo would have a big advantage on the low block against the smaller Tigers. The Cats needed every bit of it as guard tandem Fox and Monk came in 13 points under their combined season average.
Bam Adebayo, Kentucky -- The 6-foot-10, 260-pound center displayed his best post presence of the season on both ends of the floor. His defensive presence may have been just as important as the big offensive numbers, playing 35 minutes while picking up only one foul. It may have been the first time this season the Cats have had an effective rim protector.
BY THE NUMBERS:
2 - Season-low fast-break points for UK.
4-22 - Mizzou's 3-point shooting night, 18 percent.
10 - Turnovers and fouls for UK's Isaiah Briscoe in last two games.
10-0 - Kentucky's record versus Mizzou since the Tigers joined the SEC.
22.7 - Turnover rate for the Cats, coughing it up 17 times.
23-1 - UK record when shooting at least 42 percent from the field.
"There are people out there saying Bam isn't this or that. If anyone passes on him in the draft, they should be f-f-f-fired." -- UK head coach John Calipari on Adebayo and his rumored falling NBA Draft stock.
Kentucky returns to action Saturday at Rupp Arena in a game that could determine the SEC regular-season championship and the top seed in the conference tournament. Florida (23-5, 13-2 SEC) visits Lexington for a rematch after handing the Cats their worst loss of the season, 88-66, on Feb. 4 in Gainesville. The Gators defeated visiting South Carolina on Tuesday night. Tipoff for UK and UF is slated for 2 p.m. ET on CBS.