Missouri’s Jabari Brown may have gotten the highlight, but Kentucky’s Julius Randle got the result.
It was junior guard Brown’s 33 points that led Missouri’s furious rally against the Wildcats (16-5, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) — including Brown’s keynote dunk over Randle that sent Mizzou Arena’s 11,742 weather-worn spectators into a tizzy.
After No. 11 Kentucky ran up the score inside Mizzou Arena, where the Tigers (16-5, 4-4 SEC) have lost only three games in three years, Brown’s dunk would be the memory Missouri fans could take away as vengance.
But that outcome was not so, and Randle made sure of it.
The sure-fire NBA lottery draft choice scored eight of the Wildcats’ final 14 points in time to hold off the surging Tigers in an 84-79 win Saturday.
“He was really everywhere, all over the court attacking,” Missouri junior guard Jordan Clarkson said.
Randle’s jump hook over sophomore forward Ryan Rosburg with 57 seconds left gave UK a two-possession lead.
Forty-three seconds later, he had a hand in altering Clarkson’s left-handed layup that would have made it a three-point game.
And Brown’s dunk? What dunk? In the postgame press conference, Randle feigned any recollection of the play.
Randle’s force was larger than MU bigs Johnathan Williams III and Ryan Rosburg, who struggled to combine for seven rebounds — compared to Randle’s nine.
“We need something out of those guys,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said.
Williams sat with fouls through much of the first half and Rosburg was more of a malefactor than a non-factor. He lost track of Kentucky forward Alex Poythress on a pick-and-roll with 1:45 to play, giving the sophomore a wide-open shot at the rim.
Kentucky’s forwards run five men deep, though they were in foul trouble throughout Saturday’s game.
On full display was Kentucky coach John Calipari’s bunch of youngsters out-gaming the wily backcourt of Missouri. Where the Tigers played through Clarkson and Brown — who combined for 61 points — the ’Cats underclassmen (all nine of them) combined for 80.
Randle scored 18 of that total and twin guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison added 35 more.
“I think we had five freshmen out there for most of the game,” Calipari said. “And there were times we looked like we had five freshmen out there.”
It’s true — at times the Wildcats did look sloppy, overly energetic or out of sorts. Transition defense didn’t seem to be a point of emphasis, Calipari said. Neither did forcing the ball out of Brown and Clarkson’s right hands off the dribble.
But such is life for Calipari, who recruits freshmen en masse. Eight UK alumni have been drafted in past two years.
Missouri, on the other hand, continues to prod its underclassmen along. Freshman guard Wes Clark turned in a solid 22 minutes with seven points and three assists. Junior guard Earnest Ross, coming off a 24-point performance at Arkansas on Tuesday, tallied eight points and six rebounds.
That lack of firepower makes the Tigers easier to prepare for, Calipari said.
“He’s playing through two or three guys, and those two or three are as good as anybody in our league,” he said.
Still, Brown’s dunk rings in Calipari’s ears. Calipari said his defenders should never have allowed Brown to drive right.
“You can’t emphasize everything with these guys,” Calipari said. “We kept saying, ‘Don’t let them drive right. Did you not hear?’ So the next game we play, I imagine, they will drive right.”