Malik Monk, Kentucky edge North Carolina in easily the wildest game of the year so far
The highlight: Malik Monk goes for 47 points and sets a Kentucky record in the process
The best game of the season in college basketball transpired in Las Vegas on Saturday.
It might not even be topped in March.
It was that good, that riveting, that entertaining -- that near-perfect -- and so we'll be talking about this one well into next week and referencing it over the next three months of what's shaping up to be an awesome season for the sport.
No. 6 Kentucky's 103-100 win over No. 7 North Carolina was highlighted by one of the most captivating performances we've seen in a long time: Malik Monk going for 47 points, which set a season-high in college basketball this season.
It's also a Kentucky freshman record for the most points in a game.
The teams traded shots and put on the best show anyone will see in Las Vegas this week -- maybe this month. No hyperbole. This was the best you could ever ask college basketball to be in the month of December or even in the regular season.
So let's relive that incredible game with some super-duper fun takeaways. Let's go!
1. Bow down to Monk
More perspective on the achievement. Monk's 47 is the most points by a Kentucky player in program history against a top-10 foe. It's the sixth-most points in a game by a Kentucky player. Carolina doesn't exactly allow dudes to drop 40 on them every season, either. It'd been a long time since someone went for 40-plus on the Heels.
Malik Monk has 41 points for Kentucky, the first UNC opponent to score 40+ since BC's Tyrese Rice had 46 on 3/1/08.— Carolina Basketball (@UNC_Basketball) December 18, 2016
And while Monk's winning 3-pointer in the waning seconds will get all the run, check out the shot he hit to tie the game. It's a tougher shot! Hand in his face and he coolly cashes it. I jumped off my couch when this happened.
Hit the game winner, but here's Malik Monk's game tying 3. Gets a shot up by creating a small amount of space. Attempted to create a gif. pic.twitter.com/gfYsTmgRTE— Nick Neppach (@NickNeppach) December 18, 2016
Monk outscored his previous career-best (26) by halftime (he had 27). He was 18 for 28 from the field and 8 for 12 from 3. To John Calipari's chagrin, Monk attempted just five foul shots. What doesn't much matter here, but I find it funny: Monk didn't have a rebound or a foul. He hovered on the perimeter and was the sniper Kentucky needed to skirt past UNC.
Monk also outscored three teams on Saturday: Robert Morris, who lost 79-39 at Virginia; Charlotte, who lost 87-46 at Florida; and Northern Iowa, who lost 69-46 to Iowa.
2. College hoops keeps having great games
From Indiana-Kansas to Kansas-Duke to Villanova-Purdue to UCLA-Kentucky to Villanova-Notre Dame to a handful of really great matchups during Thanksgiving week, college basketball has been coming through in a big way. It's not just the freshman stars who are lifting the sport up. The games have been phenomenal. Offense is up. Shooting is up. The guys projected to play well in the preseason have been coming through.
All of that collides in the best way when you get a game like Kentucky-Carolina. Two of the biggest programs in the sport on the national stage -- playing on the Network of Stars -- and giving us a game that hits into the 100s. That is great gains for college basketball. Not a grudge match with 46 fouls that finishes 64-60. This was dramatic and had a half-dozen "OH S---!" moments. That's more than you can even ask for from college basketball in mid-December.
3. UNC wins if it's at full strength
Yeah, I'll be definitive in that remark. If the game is played the way it was but you include the availability of Theo Pinson, I think North Carolina is 11-1, not 10-2. And Monk probably doesn't crack 40 if UNC has Pinson on the floor. He's UNC's best all-around defender (and so he would have been guarding Monk), but he's not yet played this season due to a broken foot sustained in October.
So it's reasonable to suggest Monk would've merely had 37 or 38 if Pinson was in the game, but those points matter. If he's playing, UNC probably wins.
Give us a rematch, in that case. Elite Eight at the very earliest, but ideally out in Phoenix at the Final Four or in the national title game. These squads are too good on offense not to at least allow us to dream we'll get a second meeting when it matters more.
4. More proof for this being the best game
Kentucky and UNC were up and down the floor, finishing out at an enjoyable 79 possessions (college basketball now averages a tick under 72 possessions), yet Kentucky had just 10 turnovers, UNC with nine.
We didn't have sloppy play. We didn't have a lot of stoppages. We had oohs and ahhs on hand in the crowd, we had a lot of really good rebounding and some terrific lobs. We had smart play -- and a lot of it came from freshmen.
Kentucky wasn't in danger of losing the game until late because UNC never led by more than three points -- and the first time Carolina set the game at a tie was when the teams got knotted at 95.
The 103 points set a Kentucky record in a win in their storied history of their series with UNC, snapping the mark that held dating back to 1963, before the era of the 3-point shot, let alone the shot clock.
Defense wasn't in short supply; this was good offense and nice shooting. Kentucky was 54 percent from the field; Carolina 53 percent. There was some foul trouble, but 42 foul calls in a 79-possession game isn't horrible. It could've been a little smoother, but on the whole the referees did not impact the game in a negative way.
5. This is the best offensive team Calipari's ever coached
Kentucky's record for 100-point games in a season under Cal is at four. This group hit four on Saturday. It's going to find the century mark at least 10 times this season. They can go and they can score in so many ways. Monk's incredible night overshadowed the likes of De'Aron Fox, who's been the best freshman for Kentucky on the whole this season. But now Monk has a claim to that title.
Anyway, Fox scored a career-high 24 points on Saturday. He also had 10 assists and just two turnovers while playing against a team that thrives off some chaos. Another freshman, Bam Adebayo, went for 13 points and seven boards, and while he didn't thrive like I thought he would, he was good for three big-time plays to keep Kentucky's momentum going.
When you look at what Kentucky can do in the half court, don't forget how lethal the team is in transition. The Cats entered Saturday as the most potently dangerous team on the move. That continued against UNC, and it's why we won't be able to drop Kentucky out of the conversation for national title contender all season.
No matter what bad losses may or may not come, Kentucky proved on Saturday -- by getting its best win of the season -- that it will be there with Duke, UCLA, Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina, you name it. Any of them. Kentucky is legit.
Villanova, which is expected to lose four starters, is No. 7.
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