Cats expect tough test from Missouri guards


UK freshman guard Archie Goodwin drives to the basket against LIU at Rupp Arena on Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. Photo by Scott Hannigan

By David Schuh | @DSchuhKernel

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All eyes will be on Rupp Arena Saturday as ESPN College Gameday comes to Lexington for UK’s primetime matchup with Missouri.

It comes at a critical time for the Cats, as a win over the Tigers would go a long way to securing an NCAA Tournament birth next month.

Most look to the game as a battle of the backcourts. UK sophomore guard Ryan Harrow had a much-improved game against Vanderbilt Wednesday, combining with freshman guard Archie Goodwin to go 13-23 from the field for 28 points in the win.

The Tigers boast one of the strongest backcourts in the country, with Preseason SEC Player of the Year, Phil Pressey, and sophomore Jabari Brown, who leads the team with 14.5 points per game.

“It’s going to be a lot on the guards because this is a playmaker’s game,” Goodwin said. “We just have to go out there with the mindset that we’re the better guards, because we are, and prove it — show that we’re here for a reason.”

Missouri is coming off maybe its most impressive win of the season — a three-point win at home over Florida. The Tigers’ starting center, Alex Oriakhi, is a transfer from Connecticut. Last summer, when deciding on a school, he was recruited by Calipari.

“He’s a great kid,” Calipari said. “A terrific basketball player. Without him, they’re not where they are right now.”

Oriakhi will be a handful for freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein. He doesn’t score as much as some big men the Cats have faced this season, but his 8.6 rebounds per game will be a challenge to combat.

The Tigers are athletic at nearly every position, something that UK will have to handle in their altered defensive scheme without Nerlens Noel.

“We’re trying to take more charges because we did lose that shot blocking ability,” freshman forward Alex Poythress said. “We’ll be fine. We’ve got Willie (Cauley-Stein) and he’s coming along really well.”

The game will tip at 9 p.m. Saturday night and be televised nationally on ESPN.