Thank God that he let there be light, because that was the only thing catching a man named Fox on Friday night.
De’Aaron Fox — the most entertaining, blazing, promising Kentucky point guard since John Wall — had a legendary performance in Memphis in the South Regional semifinal. Fox proved, once again, that he — not Malik Monk — is Kentucky’s best, most valuable player. Lift the lid, inspect and you’ll discover this has been the case all season. Now, with America having watched one of the more dominant individual tournament performances in recent memory, most will come to realize it.
On Friday night Fox entered NCAA Tournament lore and left fellow future lottery pick Lonzo Ball in his wake in the process.
No. 2 Kentucky moved on to the Elite Eight with a sensationally wowing 86-75 win over No. 3 UCLA. Fox set an NCAA Tournament record for points (39) in a game by a freshman, doing it on 13-of-20 shooting. In Kentucky’s most important game, a revenge affair against a talented but tilted UCLA team, the sport was witness to a spectacular showing of speed, instinct, will, talent and aptness. Fox was a master in every genre.
Fox definitively outplayed Ball in both their head-to-head matchups this season. We sure Lonzo should go before him in the draft? That was the consensus entering this weekend. It can no longer be so. Now it should be a real debate.
Ball (who promptly told reporters after the game that, of course, this was his last at UCLA) was outclassed by a faster, more confident, more electric player. Fox was a flash of dazzle and destruction, pushing UCLA out of the picture and giving Kentucky a shot at a fifth Final Four in the past seven seasons. Thanks to Fox, John Calipari is now 6-0 in the Sweet 16 at UK.
Steve Alford, now 22 seasons complete in his coaching career, has never made an Elite Eight. This was the best team he ever had. Then Kentucky happened. Then Fox showed up and showed out.
Unlike the first game between these teams, a 97-92 UK loss on its home floor in 83 possessions, Kentucky slowed it down (66 possessions) to great effectiveness. Still, despite the churning tempo, Fox was running in his own lane, operating outside the laws of everyone else. Malik Monk was typically fun in his own right, playing to his average, scoring 21. But Fox looked like the best player, the best prospect on the floor. He moves at a different speed than everyone else, too. He’s a joy.
The showing was so good, it makes you believe Kentucky’s unbeatable if Fox plays like that. To ask for a repeat performance is to ask too much, but Fox has been an all-around vitality for John Calipari’s team this season. How refreshing it is to see him step into the role of Calipari Point Guard and come up big the way Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Tyler Ulis did before.
All this has dovetailed with Kentucky’s defense coming into championship form. This team has now won 14 straight. It’s winning in different ways, but getting consistency from its defense and its two most important players. Fox left no doubt that he is the MVP, and unless North Carolina finds a way to slow him, the Wildcats are headed back to the Final Four.