Life without Nerlens Noel has had mixed results for the Kentucky Wildcats.
Kentucky has split their two games since Noel was lost for the season with an ACL tear on Feb. 12. The first was a depleting 88-58 loss to Tennessee, but John Calipari’s crew bounced back with a 74-70 win over Vanderbilt.
Kentucky will look to repeat the latter performance Saturday night against Missouri at Rupp Arena in a Southeastern Conference showdown.
Seven-foot freshman Willie Cauley-Stein stepped up against Vanderbilt for 20 points, seven rebounds, and three blocks, while guard Archie Goodwin contributed 16 points and six rebounds.
The Wildcats led by as much as 14 points, but let Vanderbilt hang around, especially by struggling from the charity stripe. Kentucky went 12-for-21 from the free throw line, and 4-for-12 from the three-point line.
Letting up a sizeable lead won’t be an option against Missouri.
The 19-7 Tigers are fresh off a huge 63-60 upset victory over then No. 5 ranked Florida. Missouri overcame a 13-point deficit thanks to senior forward Laurence Bowers 17 points and 10 rebounds, and 10 assists from Phil Pressey.
Cauley-Stein and forward Alex Poythress will have to crash the boards against a Missouri club ranked first in the nation in rebounding. Poythress is second on the team with 6.1 rebounds per game, and third in scoring.
The game tips-off at 9 p.m. Eastern time, and will be aired by ESPN, or you can watch their live online stream by submitting your cable provider information at Watch ESPN here.
Betting Odds: Kentucky is favored by 1.5 points.
Over/Under: 147 points
Prediction: The key matchup is Cauley-Stein and Bowers. The Tigers have a huge edge upfront, and in experience, but the home crowd should lift the Wildcats to a close victory.
Predicted score: Kentucky 77, Missouri 71