Jabari Brown did everything but melt the ice in Columbia. Jordan Clarkson might have given the Tigers the best two players on the court.
Yet it was Kentucky and its impressive collection of freshmen that stole the show Saturday afternoon at Mizzou Arena.
Aaron Harrison paced four Wildcat freshmen - all McDonald's All-Americans who eclipsed their season scoring averages - in double figures with 21 points as No. 11 Kentucky (16-5, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) held off a furious rally by Missouri (16-5, 4-4 SEC) for an 84-79 victory.
"Obviously Kentucky deserves a lot of credit - they played well," Missouri head coach Frank Haith said. "I thought our guys competed for 40 minutes and obviously they made more plays than we did to win the game."
Brown poured in a career-high 33 points, the most for a Missouri player since Thomas Gardner scored 40 against Kansas in 2006. That included a tomahawk dunk over two of those All-Americans and a parking lot-range 3-pointer that resulted in a four-point play to bring Missouri within a single possession with less than two minutes remaining.
Clarkson, meanwhile, added 28 points on 11-of-17 shooting.
"They are great players and I do not think Jabari gets credit for how great of a player he is," Haith said. "I think both of those guys are terrific players and they left it out there on the court. They gave it everything they had."
The duo's 61 combined points are the most for the Tigers in a regulation game since Derrick Chievous and Byron Irvin combined for 63 in 1987 against Virginia Tech.
"Our coaches told us they were good scorers, but I didn't think they were going to go off like that," Kentucky foward Julius Randle said.
Added Kentucky coach John Calipari: "Frank is doing a great job with his team. He's doing it with mainly two or three guys, and those players are as good as anybody in our league."
The Tigers couldn't get much frontcourt production against the tallest team in the nation. Missouri's four forwards combined for just three points and 12 rebounds. Kentucky's big men, on the other hand, accounted for 29 points and 14 rebounds.
Randle - maybe the best of the freshmen - added 18 points and nine rebounds for Kentucky, while James Young tossed in 20 points while connecting on 4-of-7 attempts from beyond the arc. Andrew Harrison added 14 points.
With the Wildcats firing on all cylinders, it seemed as if they would run away with the game. The preseason No. 1 team extended a 10-point halftime advantage to 59-43 with 14:30 remaining on a 3-pointer from Aaron Harrison.
Brown willed Missouri back into the game, cementing himself as one of the favorites for SEC Player of the Year. He scored eight points during a 16-4 surge that cut the deficit to 63-59.
"It was not in my mind to take over, but I was just trying to win and whatever it takes to win, I am going to try and do it," Brown said.
His drive and slam over Randle and Dakari Johnson cut Kentucky's lead to a single possession at 66-63 with 7:01 left.
"I just felt like it was a momentum flip but I know they are a good team and I knew they weren't going to let that rattle them," Brown said. "I know we were going to keep having to get stops, and unfortunately we didn't get enough of them today."
An 8-3 spurt increased Kentucky's advantage to 74-66, and the situation appeared even more dire for Missouri after a dunk from Alex Poythress gave the Wildcats a 78-71 advantage with 1:45 left.
Yet Brown was there again, as he drilled a 3-pointer from well beyond NBA range despite contact and completed the four-point play to make it 78-73 with 1:33 left.
After the teams traded baskets, Missouri needed one stop to have a chance. As was the case most of the game, the Tigers had no such luck.
A layup from Aaron Harrison with 20 seconds remaining, followed by a blocked shot from Poythress on Clarkson and a pair of free throws from Aaron Harrison sealed the win.
"I think I played pretty well, but that last play I did not get the stop and he scored a bucket so that is tough," Brown said. "It's kind of killing me right now."
The first half was all Kentucky. After Brown scored the first bucket of the game, the Wildcats scored the next seven and held the lead the remainder of the half.
Ahead 28-26 with slightly more than five minutes left in the first, the Wildcats went on a 12-2 run to assume control. Kentucky's backcourt accounted for its final 14 points of the half as the Wildcats took a 42-32 edge into intermission.
During the opening half, Haith picked up the first technical of his Missouri tenure just 7:33 into the game.
Kentucky shot 53.6 percent from the floor (30-of-56), while Missouri hit 52.9 percent of its attempts (27-of-51). The Tigers went just 19-of-29 (65.5 percent) from the foul line.
The road doesn't get any easier for Missouri, as the Tigers travel to play No. 3 Florida at 8 p.m. Tuesday.