Yes, Kentucky was coming off back-to-back losses, but I don’t think anyone anticipated tonight’s overtime thriller vs. Georgia. The Cats were without De’Aaron Fox, Mychal Mulder, and Sacha Killeya-Jones due to illness and easily got off to their worst start of the season, letting Georgia pull ahead by as many as 14 in the first half; however, in the second half, they finally got rolling behind a huge night from Malik Monk, beating Georgia 90-81 in overtime. Phew.
Monk scored a game-high 37 points, 31 in the second half and overtime, including 7-11 from behind the arc. Without him, Kentucky would have lost, but thankfully, I don’t have to write that recap. The Cats outscored the Bulldogs 14-5 in overtime, saving John Calipari from his first three-game losing streak as Kentucky’s coach and the Big Blue Nation from catastrophe.
It’s insanely late, so let’s roll through this and move on to Signing Day, which begins in just a few hours.
Someone disinfect the Lodge
About an hour before tip off, news broke that De’Aaron Fox would miss tonight’s game due to an illness. Mychal Mulder was already out due to a disclosed illness, and when word came out right before the game that Sacha Killeya-Jones was also sick, fans across the Bluegrass started sending hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes to the Wildcat Lodge. After the game, Calipari said Fox and Killeya-Jones came down with the flu, but stayed mum on Mulder’s diagnosis.
“He went on a treadmill today and I watched him, but I have to talk to the trainers and stuff, so I don’t really know, but my guess would be inside of ten days, maybe a week,” Cal said of Mulder’s timeline for return.
Calipari rolled the dice with a lineup of Isaiah Briscoe, Malik Monk, Derek Willis, Isaac Humphries, and Bam Adebayo, and if Georgia’s 12-0 start wasn’t indication enough, Calipari said he won’t be using that starting lineup again.
“Didn’t help, did it?” Cal said of his decision to go big at the start. “What did you think? How did that start go? Wasn’t real good, was it? Obviously, that won’t be how we start. We’ll just have to figure it out.”
Malik Monk took over the game
As mentioned earlier, Malik Monk absolutely took over the game after halftime, scoring 31 of his 37 points. Isaiah Briscoe gave Kentucky its first lead of the game at the 18:16 mark in the second half, but from there, Monk did as only Monk can do, hitting five threes in less than five minutes. Monk’s shot is erratic, but when he’s on, he’s on, and he kept Kentucky in the ballgame, literally; Monk’s long two with eight seconds left in the second half forced overtime:
Malik Monk tonight = ðŸ”¥ðŸ”¥ pic.twitter.com/uDZnz7Ku6L
– ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) February 1, 2017
“We were lucky to be in a tie ball game playing a a zone we’ve never played,” Cal said of the 29-29 tie at half. “Our kid goes crazy in the second half, goes for 30.”
Monk has now scored 25 or more points in seven games this year — a single-season record in the Calipari era. Check out the bench’s reaction to his two to force OT:
Calipari used a zone!
Anyone who’s ever heard John Calipari talk knows he does not like to play zone, but after his team turned in some truly horrendous defensive performances and his starting point guard came down with the flu, he didn’t really have a choice. About five minutes in to the game, Kentucky broke out a 2-3 zone, which Calipari said they started practicing a few days ago.
“We went zone, and I’ve gotta give credit to Tony Barbee. I’m not a zone coach, I don’t like zone, and for two days, we’ve been playing zone. We had to do it because we have to get back to being sharp against it, but we also were playing big lineups with Derek and Wenyen at the three, so we just played zone for two days. So, Tony coached it and I just cringed and saw every — look, when we play zone, every shot they shoot is a three and it goes in. And when they play us zone, we can’t make any shots. I don’t understand it, but that’s how it is.”
Soo…more zone coming?
“That game probably, in total, was all the times I’ve played zone, so the screw-ups we had, we’re not a zone team, but we’re going to have to play some zone,” Cal added, noting that De’Aaron Fox and Sacha Killeya-Jones will likely be game-time decisions Saturday at Florida, while Mychal Mulder will probably be out another ten days (yes, Cal gave that same timeline five days ago).
Isaiah Briscoe came close to another triple double
With Fox out, Briscoe took over the point and fought through his slump, finishing with 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists. Briscoe wasn’t perfect — he had 6 turnovers — but as the game progressed, you could see the old Briscoe emerge with each drive to the basket, due in part to an ultimatum from Calipari.
“So, you know, what I liked was Isaiah Briscoe’s leadership…I told him a couple times, if you don’t tell these guys, I will, and I don’t want to do it,” Calipari said, preaching the importance of the team becoming empowered without his guidance. “And I can’t do it, because you can’t just let guys do their thing. You’ve got to tell them, the guy’s not doing what we’re asking. You tell him. Make him listen.”
Thank goodness they did.
Monk, Bam, and Briscoe scored 59 of Kentucky’s 61 points after halftime
If Fox is going to be out Saturday vs. Florida, someone else has to step up. The trio of Monk, Bam, and Briscoe scored all but two of Kentucky’s points in the second half and regulation. All three went to the free-throw line late for Kentucky, which is when Calipari preached toughness.
“I talked toughness in the last couple of huddles. That means make your free throws. You can’t miss 0-2. You can’t do a foot kicker. That’s not tough. And the kid listened, and all of a sudden, the last part, he’s making free throws, he’s taking tough shots. Toughness isn’t just pushing people, it’s making tough plays four minutes to go, three minutes to go. ”
Overtime was the best they looked the whole game
Maybe Georgia was tired. Maybe they had given up. Or maybe, Kentucky finally came together as a team to win the game, even without their starting point guard. Because it’s late and I’d rather go to bed on a positive note, I’m going with the latter, not the former. So did John Calipari.
“Well, the thing I told them after, the teams that I really enjoyed coaching will shoot 35% and still win a game. Because they’ll grind it, because they’re tough mentally. They’re tough. They’ll come up with balls physically. They’re not going to turn it over late. They’re going to make all the plays they have to make late to win. This team, for the first time this year, did it. We did it.”
Now, if they could just get healthy.
Get some sleep. Signing Day madness begins in a few hours…