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Kentucky Basketball: Quick Analysis of Wildcats' thrashing of the Tigers

The Cats followed up arguably their best game of the season with an even better performance as they dismantled Missouri.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports


That's about the only way to describe Kentucky's start against Missouri Wednesday night. This was perfectly set up to be a letdown game for the Cats coming off two big wins and facing a bad Missouri team before Saturday's big game at No. 4 Kansas.

You would have thought the Jayhawks were the opponent Wednesday night as focused and locked-in as UK looked to start the game. The game was effectively over as soon as the game began at halftime as the Cats lead 47-20 at the break before going on to win 88-54.

Here's our quick analysis of the game.

Hot with the Jump-Shot

It can't be overstated how great UK looked to start this game, especially on offense. The Cats stormed out to a 20-2 lead and were dominating both ends of the floor. The ball was moving as crisp as it has all season, and that helped everyone get wide-open jumpers they buried more often than not.

UK hit seven straight jumpers and 10 of 11 at one point as they seemingly couldn't miss. Too often this year, the Cats have been unable to buy buckets from long range and had to get all of their points in the paint or at the charity stripe, but on this night, the jump-shot carried UK's offense.

Oh, and Briscoe even hit three straight free throws, so just about everything was falling.

Defense Becoming Elite?

This was another strong defensive performance by UK, not to mention yet another first-half stifling of an opponent. Going back to the Auburn game, the Cats have allowed just 33-of-102 shooting in the first half (32.4%).

Missouri would finish the first half with more turnovers (9) than field goals made (6) or even free-throw attempts (5) as they could get nothing going on offense. UK would almost had as many blocks (11) as the Tigers had two-point field goals (14).

Oh, and Missouri ended up with more turnovers (15) than made two-pointers (14), so yeah, UK had it on lockdown tonight. While this isn't a good offensive Mizzou team (293rd in scoring coming into this game), UK was absolutely suffocating on defense.

I'm far from ready to call UK's defense elite, especially after as soft and timid as they looked just a few weeks ago, but there's no question they're playing defense at an elite level right now. That will have to continue Saturday if the Cats hope to win in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

Skal Shines

Going with both of the above points, Skal Labissiere played great on both ends of the court, and that silky-smooth jumper we saw him hitting early this season finally was back. He's simply not going to be a banger in the paint anytime soon, so hitting that mid-range jumper is going to be where most of his offense comes from, and he was hitting it tonight.

Five of Skal's six made field goals came via the jumper or hook shot, but it was his impact on defense that was really impressive. He finished with a season-high five blocks and affected several more shots while also picking up a steal.

He didn't grab a rebound, but this was still a big step forward for the talented but raw freshman.

Willis Continues Emergence

Ever since Derek Willis entered the starting lineup, this is a different Kentucky team that frankly looks significantly better than before Willis wasn't playing much. He's giving UK another added three-point threat and rebounder, two of the Cats' biggest weaknesses this season.

For the third time in four games, Willis scored in double digits with a career-high 18 points to go with 12 boards and two blocks. He also threw down a SportsCenter Top 10 candidate that had Rupp rocking:

It really is amazing not only how different UK looks with Willis, but just how he's finally getting his shot to make a positive impact and is more than doing that. You could make a good case for Willis being UK's second-best player over the past four games behind only Tyler Ulis.