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Missouri earns important win over No. 21 Kentucky

Stephen F Austin v Missouri

COLUMBIA, MO - DECEMBER 19: Head coach Cuonzo Martin of the Missouri Tigers coaches from the bench during the game against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks at Mizzou Arena on December 19, 2017 in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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Missouri held off No. 21 Kentucky to pick up one of its best wins of the season with a 69-60 SEC home win on Saturday afternoon.

Leading for most of the game, the Tigers (15-8, 5-5) earned another big conference win over a top-25 team as they hope to improve its résumé in the eyes of the committee. Many people have Missouri right on the cut line for the Field of 68 right now as they’re a potentially intriguing team if they get the opportunity to play in March.

Missouri’s defense stepped up in a major way as they held Kentucky to 32 percent shooting (21-for-66) and 10 percent three-point shooting (2-for-20). Solid in transition defense and not allowing a Kentucky three until three minutes left in the game, this was one of the best efforts on that end from Missouri all year. It’s also a potentially positive sign of things to come if the group can continue to play with that effort.

Kassius Robertson and Jordan Burnett paced the Tigers with a game-high 16 points each while freshman Jontay Porter added 13 points. Missouri still has work to do to get in, but this win is a solid building block for the next month.

Kentucky (17-6, 6-4) had a miserable offensive effort as they looked disjointed and had a lot of bad possessions. The half court offense for the Wildcats didn’t produce a lot of clean looks while individual players often tried to do too much in transition. The team is also clearly adjusting to getting freshman Jarred Vanderbilt (eight points, 10 rebounds) back in the rotation as his unique offensive game could take time to get used to.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was Kentucky’s only double-figure scorer with 15 points as most of the team had a hard time hitting anything. With a lot of players also in foul trouble, it was an ugly game without rhythm for the Wildcats.

After this game, Auburn has a two-game lead in the SEC as the unlikely first-place team but there’s plenty of time left. Kentucky’s loss snaps a three-game winning streak that has seen the Wildcats also go down a troubling trend of falling behind by double-digits.

Kentucky found themselves down by as many as 17 to West Virginia and 14 to Vanderbilt but they were able to come back and win in both instances. Down by 14 to Missouri on Saturday, Kentucky couldn’t overcome the deficit when its offense never showed up.

The next few games don’t get any easier for Kentucky as they host Tennessee before road games at Texas A&M and Auburn. The Wildcats will have to play significantly and avoid falling behind if they want to end up with a winning record in that stretch.