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Rewind: UK earns its stripes in win

Feb. 23, 2013
Rupp Arena; Lexington, Ky.

Ryan Harrow had 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists in 42 minutes as Kentucky outlasted Missouri (Darrell Bird/TCP)

John Calipari begged for fight from his Kentucky basketball team all season. He got that and more in the Cats' biggest game of the season.

Kentucky erased a 13-point first half deficit, traded body blows down the stretch of regulation and then finished with a flurry, defeating Missouri 90-83 in a wildly entertaining overtime game worthy of the ESPN College GameDay primetime slot in held.

Julius Mays scored 24 points and grabbed six rebounds in 44 minutes, including eight points in overtime. He also helped set up the extra period with a crafty play to draw a foul while shooting a three-pointer with 1:31 left in regulation and then found Willie Cauley-Stein with a drive and dish to tie the game with 40.6 seconds left.

Missouri was nearly as good as Kentucky, refusing to fold as the Cats kept the pressure on during the second half, even after falling behind by seven. Phil Pressey was dominant with the ball in his hands, carving up the UK defense for 27 points and 10 assists, but he couldn't come up with one final play at the end of regulation.

Alex Poythress bothered Pressey's drive at the end of regulation just enough to force a miss that UK corralled, but Julius Mays' runner hit the front of the rim just before the buzzer to send the game to overtime.

Poythress finished with 21 points and seven rebounds, Archie Goodwin scored all 18 of his points after halftime and Cauley-Stein had 12 rebounds and seven blocks. Missouri's Alex Oriakhi finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds.

“We got better today. We showed some things that now we know we can do. They're having confidence, not because of how I'm coaching. Demonstrated performance brings their confidence out...How good can we be before this season ends?”

“I thought they really played with great toughness. They were way more aggressive than us. They got to the (free throw) line 36 times and we got to the line 17 times. They were the aggressive team and I think, again, in the second half they got to every loose ball, every 50-50 ball and that was the different in the game.” – Missouri coach Frank Haith, on Kentucky's effort

“Earlier in the season – or just maybe even a few games ago – a lot of times when we make mistakes, we put our head down. That's one thing that gives the other team a lot more confidence when they see that. But when we come out and, even when we make mistakes, keep our head up and just try to get back on the other end and just make up for what we did, it demoralizes the other.” – UK guard Archie Goodwin, on UK's growing maturity

Where do you start? The five players who started and ultimately all played at least 35 minutes were simply sensational for Kentucky, the first time they have all put together either their best or close to their best effort of the year in the same game. It was the only type of performance that would have allowed Kentucky to win this game and it came at a time when the Cats needed it more than ever. How about Julius Mays? 24 points, six rebounds, 44 minutes. What about Alex Poythress? 21 points, seven rebounds and more grown man moves than maybe all season combined. Ryan Harrow? 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists in a matchup against the brilliant Phil Pressey. Archie Goodwin? 18 points after a goose egg disappearing act in the first half. And then there is Willie Cauley-Stein, who matched Alex Oriakhi's tenacity in the post on the way to seven points, 12 rebounds and seven blocked shots. Team effort indeed.

Whatever conversation Archie Goodwin had with himself at halftime the Cats certainly hope he'll do so more frequently. The freshman guard was virtually non-existent in the first half, going scoreless and turning the basketball over three times as the Cats somehow managed to claw their way within four points at the break. Goodwin opened the second half with just his second three-pointer in the past 15 games, then jumped a passing lane for a steal that led to a thunderous transition dunk and was suddenly as engaged as he has been all season. The sometimes maddening guard went on to score 18 points after halftime, sparking the Cats with his energy and aggressive drives to the basket.

Julius Mays was the least celebrated member of the Cats' newcomers this season but he has proven time and again that he may ultimately be the most important one. The fifth-year senior once again had his hand in nearly every important play down the stretch for the Cats, finding ways to maximize his talent through crafty play and an unmatched understanding of the game. He buried an NBA-length three from the left wing to put UK up five with 3:33 to go in regulation and then goaded Missouri star forward Laurence Bowers into fouling him on a three-point attempt with 1:31 that broke a tie and gave the Cats a two-point edge. Trailing 75-73 inside the final minute, Mays broke down the defense and found Willie Cauley-Stein for a lay-in to tie the game and ultimately sent it to overtime. Mays then scored eight points in overtime on his way to a UK career-high 24 for the game. When the Cats needed a leader, Uncle Julius said follow me.

41 – Missouri game into the game ranked second in the nation with a plus-10.2 rebounding margin, a statistic that should surprise exactly no one given the Tigers' size, physicality and athleticism. All of those characteristics were on display in the first half as they punished Kentucky to the tune of a 27-18 edge on the glass, including 12 offensive rebounds. Lo and behold, the young Cats found a way to combat that strength in the second half and overtime, ultimately out-rebounded the Tigers 41-39 for the game and holding them to just five offensive boards after the break.

If this is the Kentucky team that shows up the rest of the season then there will be a lot of coaches who don't want to see the Cats show up in their bracket come Selection Sunday. This is the type of effort that can infuse a young team with enough confidence to really spark the type of late season run that would have been unthinkable just seven days prior. There are a lot of ifs – if Alex Poythress plays with that type of fire, if Ryan Harrow stays mentally engaged, if you get the second half Archie Goodwin – involved in that scenario but would you put it past a team with as much talent as Kentucky to make it happen? I wouldn't, not after what I watched in this game.

Kentucky (19-8, 10-4) bolstered its NCAA Tournament resumé with the win and will remain at home to face Mississippi State on Wednesday, Feb. 27 at 8 p.m.

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