Malik Monk's heroic performance pulls Kentucky out of its losing streak
The super frosh went off for 37 points and saved the Wildcats with a shot that forced overtime
In the absence of starting point guard De'Aaron Fox, who did not play due to an illness, the No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats looked discombobulated and downright awful on its home floor at times against unranked Georgia. Falling behind by as many as 14 points in the first half, the young Wildcats overcame some struggles taking care of the ball and rallied to close the gap at halftime 29-29.
In the second half, Kentucky rode a flurry of runs that allowed it to hang tight with Georgia, which got a huge shooting night from J.J. Frazier (23 points) and Yante Maten (22). But it wasn't to be topped by freshman sharpshooter Malik Monk, who scored 37 points -- including the shot that sent it to overtime, where the host Wildcats prevailed 90-81.
Kentucky outscored Georgia 14-5 in the overtime period. The Wildcats (18-4) snapped a two-game losing streak and remained tied for first place in the SEC with South Carolina.
Here are three main takeaways:
1. De'Aaron Fox's importance: If there were ever a game that establishes the importance of freshman point guard De'Aaron Fox, it was tonight. Not only didn't he play, he wasn't even on the bench.
Sitting out with an illness, Fox's value as a distributor and floor general was sorely missed. In his absence, Isaiah Briscoe soaked up a larger role and did a fine job. But nothing can replace what Fox brings to this team. He is one of the fastest players in college basketball, and he uses that speed to accelerate into transition, set up teammates, and create for himself by driving the lane in the half-court. Most important, he's a natural point guard who can take care of the ball. Before tonight, Kentucky averaged only 11.8 turnovers. On Tuesday, it committed 14.
On average this season, Kentucky scores 121.6 points per 100 possessions. On Tuesday, it was 1.098 points per possession. But where Fox secretly shines for Kentucky is in his on-ball defense and ability to lock opponents down. Georgia's J.J. Frazier had a field day driving the lane without being held up, notching 5 assists and countless opportunities created for himself by taking the ball off the dribble. That's not so much an issue when Fox is on the floor.
2. Kentucky's defense remains a liability: After Saturday's slip against Kansas, John Calipari made his teams defense a point of emphasis in practice this week. "Can you be a stopper?" Calipari challenged his team with defensively, via the Courier-Journal.
Statistically, Georgia was able to have more success in terms of offensive efficiency than Kentucky's season average. Georgia had a hot night from the floor, shooting 49 percent and knocking down 6 of its 10 3-pointers. But the same issues that reared its head this past weekend came back again Tuesday. Georgia outscored Kentucky in the paint 40-30 and pulled down seven offensive rebounds. Preventing straight-line drives down the lane was the biggest glaring weakness against Georgia -- and given Kentucky's length, six blocks seems low. But the defense came up with big stops down the stretch, and even secured the victory. That's the big thing in taking the next step for this young team.
3. Malik Monk was everything Kentucky needed to snap its skid: Malik Monk was in one of those rhythms where you just knew whatever he was going to throw at the rim would fall. Maybe not in the first half, but after halftime, he was sensational. Monk scored 37 points -- 31 coming in the second half and overtime -- and made 7 of his 11 3-point attempts. There was a stretch in the second half when he made five consecutive 3-pointers and hit a heat-check.
Malik Monk now with FIVE 3 pointers in 7 minutes. pic.twitter.com/6YiMjKIoS6— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 1, 2017
It goes without saying, but Kentucky couldn't have won this one without Monk being the best version of himself. Outside of him, only two 3-pointers were made (out of 10 attempts) from his teammates. And the rest of the team shot 39.5 percent.
Per CoachCal.com, Monk's third 30-plus night ties the Kentucky freshman record with Jamal Murray for the most in a single season. And we still have plenty of ball left.
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