John Calipari's Kentucky team needs a quality road win for its NCAA Tournament resume.
COLUMBIA, Mo. (WDRB) – This is the best thing for this University of Kentucky basketball team -- an opportunity to show that what happened at Louisiana State Tuesday night will not become a pattern.
The best thing is a chance to show that defending, competing and grinding for 40 minutes matters to John Calipari's players.
The best thing is to show there's no reason to call another meeting of the players, coaches or Committee of 101.
The best thing is a shot to beat a solid team on the road in the Southeastern Conference. Like Kentucky did regularly when the Wildcats won a national title two seasons ago.
That – poise and performance under pressure -- is what Kentucky needs more than a team meeting.
And that's what Kentucky gets a chance to show Saturday at 1 p.m. in icy central Missouri, where cars were sliding off the roads early Friday evening. The Wildcats face a Missouri team that just achieved something that Kentucky failed to achieve – a victory at Arkansas.
This game can do more for Kentucky than rolling Mississippi State, Texas A&M or another SEC patsy in Rupp Arena.
The Wildcats are ranked ahead of the Tigers in the polls. They're favored by two points by Las Vegas as well as by Ken Pomeroy's computer model.
But Missouri defeated UCLA here at Missouri Arena in December, and the Tigers have a backcourt that can go, go, go with the Kentucky guards.
In fact, Missouri might have the best backcourt in the SEC. Jabari Brown, a transfer from Oregon, has scored at least 20 points in five straight games. Brown leads the SEC in scoring at 19.8 per game.
But he is not the Missouri player who made the mid-season top 25 list for the Wooden Award. That is point guard Jordan Clarkson, who averages 18.5.
Do not overlook the Tigers' third guard, Earnest Ross. He averages 14.5. Put away your calculator. That's nearly 53 points per game from the backcourt. When the Missouri guards get going, they'll make a lot of opposing coaches call a team meeting.
"Their guard play, the combined three of their guards are as good as we'll play in or outside of our league," UK coach John Calipari said.
Calipari was not the only guy tossing bouquets before the game. Missouri coach Frank Haith watched video of the Wildcats' lackluster effort during their loss at LSU Tuesday. He's not ready to scratch Kentucky from his list of NCAA Tournament contenders.
"They're better now than they were in November, as all young teams will get better," Haith said at his weekly media conference Thursday. "They had a tough game against LSU, but I don't take into account — LSU I think is a talented team, too, and their frontline's very, very good.
"I anticipate Kentucky being Kentucky, and when I watch them play against Louisville or any of the games they've played, they're an outstanding team. Their young guys are way better than they were when they started."
Kentucky has never played in this venue. In fact, the Wildcats have won all five games between the programs, including a 90-83 overtime victory in Rupp Arena last February.
At 15-5, the Wildcats have not lost consecutive games all season. Alex Poythress, UK's sophomore forward, called a players only meeting after the dull performance in Baton Rouge. The Wildcats were listed as a four-seed for the NCAA Tournament in the latest bracket that Joe Lunardi posted at ESPN.com Thursday.
UK missed the tournament last season. A questioner asked Poythress if the players are starting to get concerned about collecting enough credentials to impress the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee?
"No," Poythress said. "We're just playing basketball. We've got to be more focused, ready for the next game."