By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky used the kind of performance by PJ Washington in the first half that earned him national player of the week honors to build a big lead at Missouri Tuesday night and then simply held on the second half for a 68-58 win.
The Wildcats had a 41-23 halftime lead behind 15 points and five rebounds from Washington along with 10 points from Tyler Herro. However, UK managed just 25 points the second half and had only FIVE field goals and 12 shot attempts (UK finished with just 42 field goal attempts, the second lowest total in the John Calipari era).
Fortunately, UK went 13-for-14 at the foul line —Herro was 8-for-8 — and got 12 second-half points from Ashton Hagans to stay in front even after the Tigers cut the 20-point deficit in half.
Washington finished with 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting along with eight rebounds, three assists and one block. In the second half, though, Missouri double teamed Washington most of the time and that seemed to get the Cats out of sync offensively.
“We got stops in the first half and that allowed us to run in transition and that’s where we are at our best,” Herro, who had 18 points and five rebounds, said.
Missouri missed nine of 10 shots and went over two minutes without a score as Kentucky pushed its lead to 32-19 with 3:28 to play in half. But the second half it was UK that struggled at times to score.
“We knew they were going to go on a run in the second half. We weren’t able to really stop the bleeding (when Missouri did). We played good the first half … just got to keep it going the second half.”
“It was a dog fight out there. The guards were playing aggressive and we just had to bring that fire back to them,” Hagans said.
It didn’t help that Reid Travis, who was replaced in the starting lineup the second half by Nick Richards, sprained his right knee in the second half after a collision with teammate Keldon Johnson.
Calipari said “hopefully he’s okay” but had no other updates — and likely won’t any time soon since weather conditions have forced the Cats to stay in the night in Missouri.
“Just got to get the MRI and check it out,” Calipari said.
The UK coach said when Travis got hurt he “took the air out of the ball. I was trying to get out of here (with a win) We were almost tentative offensively. Part of it was me.”
Kentucky got outrebounded 34-28, something that certainly didn’t please Calipari.
But bottom line —Kentucky is now 7-1 in true road games and has won six in a row.
“For us, this was a big-time win. It’s a road win and you march on,” Calipari said.