COLUMBIA — They call themselves "40 minutes of dread."
The Kentucky women’s basketball team swarmed Missouri’s Lianna Doty, who had the ball behind the 3-point line, forcing her to lose control. The Wildcats' DeNesha Stallworth swooped in for possession with an open lane to the basket.
Missouri's Sydney Crafton sprinted beside Stallworth, her legs struggling to keep up with the 6-foot-3 center’s stride. In her effort to defend the net, Crafton leaped into her opponent's path and drew a foul.
Stallworth made both free throws, extending Kentucky’s lead to 15-2 with 12 minutes left in the first half. Missouri hadn’t scored in more than five minutes.
"They pressured us a lot. Probably the best we’ve seen all year," the Tigers' Bri Kulas said. "It is frustrating, but we've just got to keep our composure."
The No. 6-ranked Wildcats are known for their high-pressure defense, and they succeeded in breaking down the nation’s leading 3-point shooters in a 69-43 victory over the Tigers on Sunday at Mizzou Arena.
Kulas broke the drought on the following play with a driving layup. Kentucky answered with eight points, pulling further away to a 23-4 lead. Ten minutes remained before halftime, and Missouri had been held to just two baskets.
But in the eight minutes that followed, Missouri held Kentucky to just four points, and Kulas and Crafton narrowed the margin to 27-17 with eight points for the Tigers.
"It goes back to the composure thing," Crafton said. "We calmed down, gathered ourselves and went out and played."
After the slow start, Missouri was down 35-21 at halftime. The Tigers had made just one of their seven 3-point attempts, and their greatest scoring weapon Morgan Eye, who leads the SEC in 3-pointers, had been held to just four points, all earned within the arc.
Crafton led the team with eight points at the half, and Kulas followed with five. Kentucky capitalized on fouls, shooting 9-for-9 from the free-throw line.
"We had so much respect for Missouri’s offense and their ability to score," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. "The stress they put on our defense by constantly moving and never taking a possession off — it’s a really difficult offense to defend."
But the Tigers never recovered, and Kentucky improved to 16-1 overall and 4-0 in the Southeastern Conference. The Wildcats have won their past 15 games, losing only to No. 1 Baylor in mid-November.
Eye has made 70 3-pointers this season, but Kentucky's pressure held her to zero and forced the team to go 2-for-20 from long range.
"We knew that we were known for our 3-point shooting and that obviously, they're going to guard it harder," Crafton said.
Crafton finished the game with 11 points, nine rebounds and three steals for Missouri (12-6, 1-3 in the SEC). Kulas scored nine points, Liz Smith scored eight and Doty and Eye each scored six. Stallworth finished the game with 17 points, five rebounds and three steals for the Wildcats.
After losses to Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky, Pingeton remained optimistic about her team's progress against three top-20 teams.
"I was proud of our girls. I felt like we competed, and I feel like we've improved since Tennessee," Pingeton said. "With every game, we’re going to get a little better in understanding what this league is about."