Everyone is looking forward to the Kentucky Wildcats' date with Kansas on Saturday night, but first, the Missouri Tigers come to Rupp Wednesday night.
UK comes into this game riding a two-game winning streak thanks in large part to the emergence of junior forward Derek Willis. After rarely seeing the floor his first two years in Lexington, Willis has played 30-plus minutes in each of UK’s last three games and led the team in rebounding in all three.
Going back to the Mississippi State game, Willis is averaging 9.8 points per game while hitting 7-of-17 three-pointers (41.2%). Though it seems small, Willis has been the missing link for a UK team that's shown flashes of being a Final Four contender this season.
But the straw that stirs this Kentucky drink is sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis. Simply put, Ulis is one of the few guards in college basketball that can do it all. Passing, scoring and defense are all areas he's thrived in, depending on what's been needed of him.
Ulis is a major pest on defense and is why most backcourts finish with stat lines like what Vanderbilt and Arkansas had last week (both starting backcourts were combined 15-of-45 shooting for 33.3%).
On offense, Ulis has scored 20 or more points in six of the last eight games, including wins over Arkansas and Vanderbilt. He's averaging 20.8 points, 4.3 boards and 5.8 assists over his last four games as he's really become the best player on this team and one of the best guards in college. He also eclipsed 100 assists for the season and achieved the feat in just 17 games played, marking the sixth-fastest pace in school history.
As for the Tigers, they're led by second-year head coach Kim Anderson, whose squad is looking for its second conference win of the season after a 76-61 victory over Auburn (Jan. 9). The Tigers are coming off one of their best showings this season, a narrow loss at No. 5 Texas A&M.
Mizzou led by four points at the 17:25 mark in the second half, but could not keep pace with the Aggies down the stretch, dropping a 66-53 result at Reed Arena on Saturday.
Freshman forward Kevin Puryear also reached double digits with 11 points to go with six boards. Puryear leads the Tigers in scoring this season with 11.5 points per game.
Junior guard Wes Clark led the Tigers with 12 points, also matching his career-high with a team-high nine rebounds. Clark has done his part in three career games against Kentucky, averaging 12.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.
In his most recent action against the Wildcats (Jan. 29, 2015), Clark scored a then-career-best 19 points on 7-of-16 FG shooting and a 3-of-7 day from beyond the three-point line. Clark has three games of 20+ points this season, and nine of the Tigers' 11 losses have come when he's scored 13 points or less, so keeping him contained is the key shutting down Mizzou's offense.
In reality, Missouri isn't going to win a shootout with Kentucky, so expect them to try and muddy this game up as much as possible and foul often. Mizzou plays nine guys in their rotation, so they'll have plenty of fouls to give and make UK beat them from the charity stripe, something that will be difficult for a team that ranks 265th in the nation in free-throw percentage (66.7%).
Here is everything you'll need for Kentucky's SEC clash with Missouri.
Missouri Tigers (8-11, 1-5 in SEC) at Kentucky Wildcats (15-4, 5-2 in SEC)
When: Jan. 27, 2016
Location: Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY
Game Time: 9 p.m. ET
Rosters: Missouri Roster; Kentucky Roster
Online Stream: Watch ESPN
Radio: UK Radio Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt (info and affiliates)
Odds: UK is a 17.5-point favorite, per Vegas Insider.
John Calipari’s All-Time Record vs. Missouri: 5-2
Kim Anderson’s All-Time Record vs. Kentucky: 0-2
Projected UM Starters
#15 G - Wes Clark, 6-0, 180 lbs, Jr.
#1 G - Terrence Phillips, 5-11, 175 lbs, Fr.
#12 G Namon Wright- 6-5, 202 lbs, So.
#24 F - Kevin Puryear, 6-7, 236, Fr.
#44 C - Ryan Rosburg, 6-10, 260 lbs, Sr.
Projected UK Starters
#3 G - Tyler Ulis, 5-9, 160 lbs, So.
#13 G - Isaiah Briscoe, 6-3, 202 lbs, Fr.
#23 G - Jamal Murray, 6-4, 207 lbs, Fr.
#35 F - Derek Willis, 6-9, 220 lbs, Jr.
#22 F - Alex Poythress, 6-8, 230 lbs, Sr.
My Prediction: This is your typical look-ahead trap game for Kentucky, who is undoubtedly looking forward to Saturday's clash at No. 4 Kansas. It's going to be hard for these young Cats to keep their focus on the task at hand in Mizzou, who is arguably the worst team in the SEC. Plus, coming off two impressive wins against Arkansas and Vanderbilt, this is set up to be the perfect spot for a so-so performance.
Still, these Tigers just don't have the firepower to hang with the Cats for 40 minutes while they're in the midst of a long rebuild and possible sanctions thanks to Frank Haith. Though the Tigers keep within striking distance going into halftime, this ends up being a fairly comfortable win for the home team.
Final Score: Kentucky 73, Missouri 61