Kentucky enters this game as the No. 4 team in the country and the top ranked team in the SEC after dominating Tennessee for the vast majority of their game on Saturday. What can the Wildcats now do on a trip to Columbia to face Mizzou?
Here are the three keys:
No let down
This is a classic trap game.
Kentucky is on a high from vaulting to the top of the SEC for the first time this season after the defeat of Tennessee. These are young adults that we are talking about here remember, people prone to emotional highs and lows. Some players react to a win like that by coming out just as hard the next week, but many will relax and come out and play with a little less aggression and competitive drive. It’s just human nature to be that way.
We actually saw that in the SEC this week when LSU squeaked by Georgia by just four points a few days after their huge win at Rupp over Kentucky. Coach Calipari knows that a letdown is coming and it is his job to focus his players on the contest so that they don’t overlook Missouri and pick up an unneeded loss.
PJ Washington is the man
Washington has been making his case as a potential SEC Player of the Year all season, but he really broke out against Tennessee in a game that he clearly wanted to win more than any other player on the court.
Washington was unstoppable against Tennessee, as he has been for the last month, and he has posted 20 points or more in seven of the Wildcats last eight games. He went for 23 points and five rebounds on 9-of-12 from the field against Tennessee, using his size and power to get into the right position to score easy baskets. Washington’s decision making sets him apart and it is hard to see how Missouri will have the defensive manpower to slow down Kentucky’s best player.
The health of Mark Smith
This should be a game that Kentucky wins even when you take into account the letdown factor and the fact that this is a conference road game.
The only chance that Missouri has is to rain down three-pointers and hit them at a high rate. The key to that would be Mark Smith, a player who is hitting three-pointers at 47-percent, one of the best rates in the entire conference.
Smith is a selective three-point shooter. He doesn’t jack up a ton of ill-advised three-balls, preferring to find his spot and take the shots that come to him in transition or in the flow of the offense. This means that whenever he is on the court the Kentucky defense must be aware and they must close down Smith’s space to make him pass the ball away.
Smith missed six of the last seven games through injury, returning to play three minutes as Mizzou lost to Ole Miss on Saturday. If he isn’t good to go, or if he is hampered in any way, then the road to a win becomes much clearer for the Wildcats.