It’s been a treat watching Kentucky’s four McDonald’s All-Americans develop since I first watched them →
By Nick Roush on ©March 29th, 2017 @ 5:30pm
It’s been a treat watching Kentucky’s four McDonald’s All-Americans develop since I first watched them play a year ago. When you watch guys once, you get a good feel for their strengths and their weaknesses. Over time, questions are answered. It was a joy to see how much they’ve improved over a year and what is possible in the future.
I first saw Vanderbilt play in a Grind Session event at Pulaski County High School before Sacha Killeya-Jones took the floor. It only takes a quarter of basketball to draw Michael-Kidd Gilchrist comparisons. Vanderbilt has similar measurables, he’s an inch taller with a wider wingspan, but his style of play is what draws you to the former National Champion and No. 2 pick in the draft.
Vanderbilt isn’t a guy that plays hero ball; he gets his teammates involved. Whether he’s running the break, playing off a pick-and-roll or defending the other team’s best player, he is the the gear that makes the clock tick. Passing isn’t something you see in highlight reels, but it’s what he does best, using his length to get around multiple defenders to find the open man. Defensively, he can guard anybody at any spot on the floor, using his long arms to force deep, contested shots.
The biggest question mark for Vanderbilt was his shot. Lefties never look bad when they shoot it, but like Tayshaun Prince, a lefty with long-arms always has a weird-looking form. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but it doesn’t like right, especially when you see how little elevation Vanderbilt has when he shoots.
At the two open practices, Vanderbilt was lights out.
From 15-18 feet, he was consistent. Off the dribble in pick-and-roll action or with a little catch-and-shoot, Vanderbilt was money. It was not forced, he simply took what the defense gave him. Guarded by Kevin Knox, nothing came easy, but he was so smooth he made it look easy. Vanderbilt has spent many extra hours working on his shot and it’s paid off.
“Before school, after school, even late nights. I’ve been sacrificing a lot to get that right. It seems like it’s been paying off so far,” Vanderbilt said yesterday. “It’s just great seeing all that hard work pay off. All the work I put into my shot, it’s finally coming along.”
Vanderbilt needed to play hero ball for his prep school, but when surrounded by talent, he excels, taking what the defense gives him and making them pay. Nobody has been more impressive in Chicago.
It’s hard to pin down Richards. During games, he’s either feast or famine, struggling with foul trouble or earning a scrappy double-double.
During individual drills, Richards’ midrange game surprised, consistently knocking down jumpers from from 10-15 feet. Once they got into a team setting, you never knew what you were gonna get. On Monday, he looked overwhelmed at times by Mohamed Bamba and Mitchell Robinson. Lacking a consistent post move, the physicality disrupted his game. On Tuesday, it was a different story. He was a patient, using the extra time to find the defensive weakness and exploit it for an easy two.
Leftover from yesterday, the No. 2 Center (Richards) doing work vs. the No. 1 Center (Mitchell Robinson) pic.twitter.com/yiscusDmsa
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) March 29, 2017
Why can’t Richards find an easy medium and play consistent? “I’m not really trying to make excuses, but I’ve only played three years of basketball,” Richards said yesterday.
Born in Jamaica, the 7-footer’s gained experience by playing on the EYBL and at The Patrick School, the alma mater of MKG and Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s turned him into the second-best center in the 2017 class, but he has a lot of room to grow. He’s happy to have Kenny Payne and John Calipari next year to help make a transformation similar to Bam Adebayo and Karl Anthony-Towns.
Richards’ left-handed grab from Green on the fast break was the best highlight from the two practices.
Quade ➡️Richards 💥 pic.twitter.com/fhQZzCdRcw
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) March 28, 2017
Washington is unlike any other player Calipari has ever recruited to Kentucky. His best asset is rebounding, comparable to Julius Randle, but his offensive game is unlike Randle’s. He’s at his best facing the basket, stretching the floor and knocking down threes or attacking the rim off the dribble. His ball-handling and passing ability is also exceptional for his size (6’8″ 200 pounds). He often ran the point guard for Findley Prep, one of the top ten programs in the nation.
Trying to compare him to another UK player is perplexing, but his game complements Vanderbilt’s well. Much more physical, it will be shocking if he doesn’t get at least eight rebounds a game next year. He does not pull-up quite like Vanderbilt, but he can spot up from deep, and he’s much more likely to bang with the bigs inside. If you want a comparison, Draymond Green is as close as you’ll get.
This post is meant to describe each players’ physical skill set, but his intangibles are much more important. Quade’s step-back is phenomenal. In the final minutes of preliminary Peach Jam games, he used the move to carry his team to victory multiple times, eventually reaching the championship. His ability to create space makes his size (6’1″) insignificant. He also has an exceptional three-point shot, starting his shot from almost behind his head to keep it away from defenders.
Vanderbilt to Richards to Green pic.twitter.com/M7D2Hevpuz
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) March 28, 2017
His ball skills are exceptional, but it’s not what makes him great.
Green is a fearless leader with the ball in his hands. He does not hesitate when the game is close. He makes the difficult pass, and he makes it look easy. Players gravitate to him because they know he will get them the ball. Matt is not overselling his significance in this recruiting class; players want to play with Quade because he commands the floor and draws attention to get the ball to others.
Being an above-average shooter and a great passer will get you far, but his attitude is what will make him another elite point guard in Calipari’s lineage of NBA talent. This statement says it all:
“I’m trying to be better than Tyler (Ulis). I’m going in with a different mindset: be the best player I can be and be better than all the point guards that ever came through there.”
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 29th, 2017 @ 4:39pm
You’re looking at Paul Kuharsky, an NFL writer for ESPN.com and co-host on “The Midday 180,” a sports talk show here in Nashville. Kuharsky is infamous in Music City for being a curmudgeon, especially when it comes to journalism, John Calipari, and, apparently, us. Today, Kuharsky and co-host Chad Withrow led off the show by discussing the John Higgins fiasco and what role they believe KSR played in it. Matt heard the conversation and called in, which led to a spirited debate between him and Kuharsky over “journalism” vs. fan sites such as the one you’re reading right now. As you might imagine, Kuharsky and Withrow are not fans of ours because they believe we perpetuate “fake news,” so this was a lively conversation to say the least.
The conversation then switched to Paul’s claim that Kentucky fans chanted “SEC” at the SEC Tournament (which didn’t happen, he misheard the “MVP” chant directed at Dominique Hawkins) and the UCLA game (which honestly, I don’t even recall). That part’s not as entertaining, but you should stop and listen to the segment because it’s not only great radio, it’s an interesting debate about traditional journalism vs. fan-based sites. Personally, I think Kuharsky and Withrow’s complaints that KSR only prints the good stuff about the team and not the bad is totally bogus and proves they’ve never read this site, but it’s an argument I hear a lot and, as someone who strives to be as fair as possible in my coverage, it annoys me. I listened to the show for about an hour afterwards and want to give to all of the KSR fans who called in to defend us a big shoutout. We do this for you, and we thank you.
By Nick Roush on ©March 29th, 2017 @ 12:00pm
John Calipari’s created a successful lineage of point guards at Kentucky, from John Wall to Tyler Ulis. The next to join the family is different than his predecessors, and he likes it that way.
A shifty 6-footer from Philly, Quade Green carries a chip on his shoulder to help him play bigger than his size. He will not mind the comparisons to Tyler Ulis, but after his time at Kentucky ends, he hopes the next great Kentucky point guard will be compared to Quade Green.
“I’m trying to be better than Tyler. I’m going in with a different mindset: be the best player I can be and be better than all the point guards that ever came through there.”
The Ulis comparisons are inevitable because of his size and shooting ability. With the ball in his hands, his step-back is rarely contested, especially from deep behind the three-point line, a shot we saw Ulis take often.
“Except for Tyler (Ulis), everybody was 6’3″ and over and couldn’t shoot really. I hope I’m going to be the first guard really that Cal ever got that can really shoot the ball consistently.”
Green’s ability to live up to his lofty personal expectations will fall on the shoulders of his teammates. After all, his job is to get everybody involved, something he’s starting to do this week in Chicago.
“Everybody’s getting their feet wet on how they play with each other. Everybody’s got some different things they like to do, so I’m just trying to help make those things great,” Green said.
That attitude is why great players gravitate toward Green. They know he’s going to try get them the ball, no matter what.
“He’s a pass-first guard, so he’s always looking for me on the lob and getting touches inside. He’s always encouraging me to go off. He’s always telling me to get buckets,” Nick Richards said. “He’s a natural-born leader. He’s just a winner.”
“I just get my team involved,” Green said. “You run with me, you’re gonna get found. I’m gonna find you regardless.” Yesterday, Green found Richards on the break for a beautiful alley-ooo, arguably the best highlight from the two days in Chicago.
Quade ➡️Richards 💥 pic.twitter.com/fhQZzCdRcw
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) March 28, 2017
Quade is constantly communicating with his teammates. Whether he’s screaming at them to get buckets on the other side of the court, putting them in the correct position or talking trash to his opponents. Green is an unabashed talker.
“I just like talking. I like communicating with people, everybody. I don’t care if you’re a little kid, two years-old, or old and in the hospital, I don’t care. I like talking. I just try to be humble and keep everything positive.”
Green’s extroverted personality makes him an effective leader. A self-proclaimed control freak, he’s at his best with the ball in his hands, especially late in games.
“The way he controls the game. He controls the tempo. He makes sure everybody is in the right spot,” Jarred Vanderbilt said. “He’s very vocal, one of the most vocal point guards I’ve ever played with. He knows how to find guys and get them open. His passes are right on target. He’s a great P-G.”
His ability to get others involved could attract two more All-Americans to come to Kentucky next fall. Green was Mo Bamba’s point guard in the EYBL for the PSA Cardinals. His late-game heroics helped carry the team to the Peach Jam Finals, but his insistence on sharing the ball is what might get Kevin Knox to Kentucky.
“Quade’s a leader. He likes to win and that’s something I really like. He’ll get people the ball. He’s not really about scoring. He’s really a pass-first point guard,” Knox said. “He makes everyone on the team better.”
After a handful of practices, P.J. Washington is already seeing the fruits of Green’s labor.
“Nick’s blocking shots, Jarred’s hitting jumpers and Quade’s getting everybody involved. I feel like we’re going to be great next year.”
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 29th, 2017 @ 9:00am
The focus of today’s top 10 is pretty obvious. Tonight, (at least) four future Kentucky Wildcats will take the stage at the McDonald’s All-American Game, which is where we’ll start things off.
1. The McDonald’s All-American Game is at 7 p.m.
Quade Green, PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Nick Richards will all suit up for the East Team in tonight’s McDonald’s All-American Game, which airs at 7 p.m. on ESPN. From what I gather, the foursome has spent almost all of their time recruiting Mo Bamba and Kevin Knox to join them. Nick Roush has been churning out awesome coverage of the McDonald’s All-American festivities, so to prepare yourself, check it out:
- Five Leftovers from Day Two at the McDonald’s All-American Games
- How Hamidou Diallo is Preparing His Peers for Kentucky
- Kentucky Commits Use Alternative Recruiting Tactic: Cookies
- McDonald’s All-American Practice Thread
- Three Late Night Notes from Chicago
- Quade Green Wins the Powerade JamFest Skills Challenge
- Quade Green using his TV time to recruit Mohamed Bamba
- Coach Cal has Four Recruiters for Knox and Bamba at the McDonald’s All-American Game
2. KSR will have a live blog for the game
It’s been a few days since we’ve done a live blog, so if you need a fix, or just want to join some fellow Cats fans to talk about the game, check the site around 7 p.m.
3. Get in the mood with these highlights from practice
Impossible to really tell anything from a practice for an all-star game, but those midrange jump shots sure look nice.
4. Calipari finally offered Zion Williamson last night
After watching his mixtapes for months, I’ve been waiting for John Calipari to offer 2018 phenom Zion Williamson, and last night, he finally did. The 6’7″ 230 lbs. forward is considered the best player in the 2018 class by 247 Sports and has become a YouTube sensation for his explosive dunks, to the point even Drake has been spotted wearing his jersey. Here’s why:
Williamson visited Kentucky for the Kansas game earlier this year and said he was floored by the experience.
“Indescribable, the environment,” Williamson said. “That environment, I just can’t even describe it, it’s ridiculous.”
5. South Carolina fans really want him
It’ll be a while before Williamson makes his decision, but South Carolina fans have made it clear to the Spartanburg native that they want him, chanting “We want Zion” at a pep rally celebrating the team’s Final Four berth in Columbia a few days ago:
— Brad Fralick (@BradFralickWYFF) March 27, 2017
Plenty to focus on before we worry about that, such as…
6. Two new names on the radar
On Tuesday, John Caliapri reached out to two 2017 shooting guards: Mark Smith and Jemarl Baker. With the backcourt cupboard bare after this season, Calipari’s clearly going after depth, particularly guys that can shoot, and both guards can do just that. Smith was recently named Mr. Basketball in the state of Illinois and was originally set to play baseball at Missouri, but an elbow injury forced him to focus on basketball instead. The Cats are obviously coming in late to his recruitment and will have to beat out schools like Illinois, Butler, Indiana, Ohio State, Texas, California, Northern Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas State and Missouri, which, given the fact that it’s Kentucky, probably won’t be too tough.
Meanwhile, four-star guard Jemarl Baker recently decommitted from Cal after Cuonzo Martin took the job at Missouri, and the Cats are on his list, along with Maryland, Utah, Oregon, Arizona, Duke, Marquette, Virginia, and ASU. He’s known as a great shooter, and the Cats will definitely be in need of those next season.
With the early signing period starting on April 12, it’s gonna be a fast and furious recruitment with both of these players, so stay tuned.
7. Don’t forget Derek Willis in the Reese’s College All-Star Game on Friday
Willis is headed to Phoenix this weekend after all, to play in the Reese’s College All-Star Game. The game will be a great chance for Willis to impress some scouts and further his NBA stock, and he’ll play alongside the likes of JJ Frazier, Moses Kingsley, and Bryce Alford. The game airs on CBS Sports Network at 6:30 PM ET on Friday night. We’ll be watching.
8. Those of you leaving nasty stuff on John Higgins’ roofing company’s Facebook page need to stop
I get that a lot of you blame Higgins’ questionable calls for Kentucky’s loss, and yeah, leaving fake bad reviews may seem funny, but when you think about it, it’s really not. It’s actually embarrassing and a horrible representation of our fanbase. The story has gone national, so please do everyone a favor and stop.
9. “Trading Spaces” is coming back!
I got way too excited yesterday when I heard that TLC is reviving “Trading Spaces,” the home improvement makeover show that ran from 2000-2008. The show was must-see TV for me during high school and college, and I’ll never forget the homeowners’ reactions when Hildi glued hay on the walls or when Doug redid a brick fireplace, which left one homeowner so upset that she could be heard sobbing off camera:
10. KSR starts in an hour
Are you ready?
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 28th, 2017 @ 11:00pm
The first few days after the season ends are always an adjustment. Not only is there the sadness that Kentucky’s run is over, there’s a gaping void left by the one thing you’ve spent the past five, almost six, months focusing on. What do we do now that basketball’s over? I’ve spent the entire day asking myself that and have ten suggestions, starting with the obvious and most important.
1. The Spring Game
Friday, April 14, 7:30 p.m., Commonwealth Stadium, SEC Network
Hey, remember spring football? Freddie and Nick have done a great job holding down the fort for us while we’ve been wrapped up in roundball, and what better way to recalibrate than check in on Mark Stoops’ squad? The spring game is two weeks from Friday, giving you plenty of time to catch up. From what I gather, Stephen Johnson’s been doing really well and has been asked to eat 5,000 calories a day, which sounds like a dream life to me. Stay tuned on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for practice and scrimmage updates, and in between for our analysis as we slowly shift our focus to the gridiron. With enthusiasm for the program at maybe an all-time high, it’ll be an easy transition.
2. Basketball recruiting
McDonald’s All-American Game: Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPN; Jordan Brand Classic: Friday, April 14
If you haven’t seen Nick’s coverage on the site the past two days, the McDonald’s All-American Game is tomorrow night and features (at least) four future Cats: Quade Green, PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Nick Richards. If those four have their way, they’ll seen be joined by Mohamed Bamba and Kevin Knox soon, who have yet to decide on a school (both are targeting mid-late April decisions). Jumping right into the next team just as we are saying goodbye to the current one is always a tough transition, but watching the future Cats relentlessly go after Bamba and Knox has been entertaining. This tweet alone gave me a bit of a thrill:
Quade Greene just tried to break the east team huddle on "BBN"…four UK signees on that team…
— Garrett Moore (@SportsNightGM) March 27, 2017
The spring signing period starts April 12, so expect a LOT of coverage on Bamba, Knox, and UK’s latest target, shooting guard Mark Smith (read more about him here), in the coming weeks.
Spring meet runs Friday, April 7 through Friday, April 28
For a lot of you, this probably ranks #1. The spring meet starts next weekend, which means your office will be pretty empty on Friday afternoons for the next month. Nothing says spring like Keeneland, and nothing says Keeneland in the spring like girls in sundresses and wedges even if it’s still 55 degrees out. As someone who lives three hours away, I can’t wait for you all to rub it in on Instagram and Facebook.
Saturday, May 6
See above and multiply it by 1,000. Also, if you’ve missed it the past two weeks, we now have a horse racing writer, Chad Lashbrook, contributing to the site to prepare you for this year’s Run for the Roses. Each Wednesday leading up to the Derby, he’ll break down the top eight contenders. Click here to check out his most recent column.
5. UK Baseball
After losing the first four games, UK Baseball has gone 18-3, 5-1 in the SEC, UK’s best conference start since 2012. In his first season, Nick Mingione has his team rolling. The Cats are now ranked in all five baseball polls (who knew there were five polls?). I’m not a big baseball person, but the excitement around the program is palpable, and you can get in on it by checking out our KSR Baseball Podcast with Trey Huntsman and former UK Baseball Coach Keith Madison. Also, get out to the Cliff to watch UK take on Vandy this weekend.
6. The Masters
Is there anything more comforting than The Masters theme music? The Masters has been my go-to “get over basketball” event for years, and even though I’ve struggled to reconnect with the sport now that Tiger’s out (and may never be back), I try to get back into it every year. Nothing is better than watching Sunday at Augusta from the couch with the windows open, and the inevitable nap that follows.
7. Patio weather
Drinking and eating outside beats drinking and eating inside any day. It’s scientifically impossible to turn down an invitation to happy hour on a Friday afternoon when it’s 75 degrees and sunny out. Similarly, it’s scientifically impossible not to grill on a Sunday afternoon when it’s 75 degrees and sunny out. I’ll be doing a whole lotta both this weekend.
8. NBA Finals
April 15 – June 18
The playoffs begin in a few weeks, and right now, a handful of former Cats are on teams in contention:
- Trey Lyles, Utah Jazz
- Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder
- Andrew Harrison, Memphis Grizzlies
- DeAndre Liggins, Cleveland Cavaliers
- James Young, Boston Celtics
- John Wall, Washington Wizards
- Patrick Patterson, Toronto Raptors
- Terrence Jones, Milwaukee Bucks
With eight games left, the Nuggets (Jamal Murray) and Bulls (Rajon Rondo) still have a shot as well.
9. NBA decisions/autograph tours
Early Entry Deadline: April 23; Early Entry Withdrawal Deadline: June 12
Who will stay and who will go to the Draft? De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, and Isaiah Briscoe seem to be the safe bets on going, while the rest of the team seems likely to stay. Wenyen Gabriel may test the waters, but I would imagine the only feedback he’ll get will be to return to Kentucky and get stronger. Those who do test the waters have until June 12 to make the final decision on staying/going, but will probably make their decisions shortly after the NBA Draft Combine May 9-14.
Those that decide to stay in the draft will start their autograph tours around the state and appearances on KSR, along with Dominique Hawkins, Derek Willis, and Mychal Mulder. Once those dates/locations are available, we’ll pass them along to you.
10. Calipari’s 30 for 30
Thursday, April 13, ESPN
Sure, Cal’s 30 for 30, “One and Not Done,” may have had more oomph behind it had Kentucky made it to the Final Four, but I’m still looking forward to it. Also, it’s no coincidence that the documentary premieres the day after the spring signing period begins. I’m hoping to get my hands on an advanced copy to review next week, but in the meantime, this trailer will do:
One and Not Done. Going to be 🔥 pic.twitter.com/zzgEmmxuPI
— Dan Bayens (@danbayens) February 3, 2017
John Higgins is not good at his job.
In fact, John Higgins is terrible at his job.
Sunday night’s regional final in Memphis further proved that Higgins, one of the most recognizable officials in college basketball, should not be allowed to call Kentucky games. He has been on the whistle in eight Kentucky games throughout his career, and Kentucky has been on the losing end of five of them. For a program that has won almost 80 percent of its games, there is something fishy about a 37.5 percent winning percentage under one referee.
Furthermore, John Calipari is 2-4 with the Wildcats when Higgins is on the floor, compared to Cal’s 247-49 record in other games. Those four losses came against UConn in the 2011 Final Four, Wisconsin in the 2015 Final Four, UCLA at Rupp Arena back in December, and in Sunday night’s heartbreaker against the Tar Heels. In the latter, Higgins was trending nationally on Twitter during the first half of the horribly-called game:
— Rex Chapman (@rexchapman) March 27, 2017
Does John Higgins get region MOP?
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) March 26, 2017
— Jay Williams (@RealJayWilliams) March 26, 2017
That's some great officiating right there…..
— Karl-Anthony Towns (@KarlTowns) March 26, 2017
Let’s take a look at some of the calls Higgins and his two partners in crime, Keith Kimble and Mike Reed, whiffed on in those first 20 minutes:
The De’Aaron Fox no-call
The most obvious of the bad calls of the game, this somehow didn’t send Fox to the foul line right before halftime:
All arm there.
The Bam Adebayo goaltending call
Kentucky was robbed of two points when a clean Bam Adebayo tip-in was waved off for phantom goaltending:
Kentucky could’ve used those two points in the end, huh?
Another two points were waved off on this over-the-back call on Bam:
That’s not an over-the-back foul. That is called hustle and second effort.
There were many more missed and bad calls throughout that first half, almost all leaning in North Carolina’s favor. The Derek Willis loose ball foul is another one that comes to mind, and then there’s this from Mike DeCourcy’s story for The Sporting News:
There were some curiosities, though, particularly with the first-half officiating. On three occasions, official John Higgins observed action and did not blow his whistle to call a foul on Kentucky until the outcome of the play turned in UK’s favor.
All of it led John Calipari to say in his press conference, “You know, it’s amazing that we were in that game where they practically fouled out my whole team. Amazing that we had a chance.”
Cal also said he wishes he had his full roster in the first half against the Tar Heels.
With all that said, Kentucky still pulled ahead to a five-point lead with five minutes to go in the game, so the first half whistle isn’t the reason why the Cats lost. Kentucky lost because it needed more from De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk offensively, and because North Carolina is the best team in the country. Higgins’ whistle didn’t help UK’s chances, but the blame doesn’t fall on the guys in stripes.
Did they suck? Yes. Was it five on six in the first half? Yes. Is that an excuse? No. Blaming officials is never the way to go. But we can be critical of them, which is what I am doing right now.
Going forward, obviously, John Higgins should be kept far, far away from meaningful Kentucky games. I’m sure Calipari will do everything he can to make that happen.
But even if we never see Higgins again, he still played a starring role in three NCAA tournament exits in seasons with the title in reach.
He did this in the 2011 semifinal…
He blew the shot clock call in the 2014 semifinal…
And he kept his streak alive by ruining the first half of Sunday’s game…
No more John Higgins please.
On Saturday afternoon, I sat down and wrote an entire post about how no matter what happened vs. North Carolina, this season was a success to me. I had just walked out of the best press conference of the season, in which the team was loose, happy, and downright lovable. Not only had Kentucky just beaten UCLA to avenge December’s loss, they did it in convincing fashion, with De’Aaron Fox getting the best of Lonzo Ball (and his dad) and Malik Monk finding his three-point shot. The North Carolina game loomed, but watching this team transform into the one we’ve all been waiting for was enough for me. I saved that post as a draft, content to just get it off my chest, and went into yesterday with an open mind, ready to accept whatever outcome the basketball gods had in store.
And then the game happened. The funny thing about the loss is that I don’t think I would be as upset today had the Cats lost by ten, like it seemed they might in the first half. For most of the game, I never really thought Kentucky would win. In the first half, the Cats got hosed by the officials but the Tar Heels missed plenty of shots, making just enough mistakes to let Kentucky hang around. When Kentucky made its rally in the second half, my heart lurched and all that “no regrets” stuff went out the window. I had prepared myself for a loss, but here came Isaac Humphries of all people, making me believe again. When UNC went up by seven with a minute left, I once again braced myself for the worst, only for De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk to drag my heart back into it. After Monk’s three to tie it with nine seconds left, I had just talked myself into this being the greatest story of all time when Maye wrote the sad final chapter six seconds later. Game over. Season over.
So, is this season still a success? It’s hard to see in the bleak light of the morning after, but I still believe so. Yes, had the Cats beaten the Heels, the path to the national championship was wide open and ready for the taking; however, North Carolina was the best team left besides Kentucky and there is no shame in losing to them. Plus, you have to appreciate how far this team came. Remember how bleak things looked in late January? Kentucky lost three games in a two-week span, bringing Cal’s haters out of the woodwork; however, while the BBN braced itself for what could be another short March, the team quietly went to work. Hampered by illness and injury, De’Aaron Fox slowly returned to form. In the shadow of bigs like Anthony Davis and Karl Towns, Bam Adebayo became a consistent force down low. When Malik Monk’s shot failed him, he discovered other ways to contribute. Seniors Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis shed their bench status and became clutch contributors, unwilling to waste another second of their final days in blue and white. As college basketball focused on Duke, North Carolina, and the almighty ACC, the Cats steeled themselves for battle with ugly win after ugly win in the SEC, in retrospect, an underrated feat. For once, everyone was sleeping on Kentucky, including a good portion of its own fanbase.
And then came the postseason, a wild seven-game ride in which all the parts started coming together at just the right time. With the clock running down, this group transformed, barreling into the tournament like De’Aaron Fox towards the basket, picking up confidence with each game. With increased media opportunities came more glimpses into this squad’s personality, which, at times, had been hard to pinpoint. The fact that many fans had a hard time falling in love with this team for so long isn’t the team’s fault at all; over the years, Kentucky fans have become increasingly spoiled by players whose on the court talent was matched by their off the court personality. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl Towns, and Tyler Ulis come to mind as players who have won the BBN over with their personalities, and maybe it’s because of the fanbase’s intense emotional attachment to the 2015 team and Ulis that it took a while to fall for this group. This team is full of great kids, but man, what a hard act to follow.
Yet, as the season inched closer to midnight, this group started talking and the BBN listened. Monk was the player who, no matter how much he struggled, you could count on to make a big shot; Fox, the fearless, confident leader; Bam, the lovable and hard-working big; Briscoe, the bulldog. And then there are the seniors, the heart and soul of the whole bunch. Years from now, people will probably mention Fox and Monk first when talking about this team, but you’re never going to convince me that Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis aren’t the reason everything came together at the end. How special was it that two Kentucky kids played above themselves to help a group of freshmen gel?
Fittingly, in the end, this team won fans over not because of one player, but because of their bond. I’ll always remember three moments with them: the bench sprinting out to meet Dominique Hawkins after one of many huge plays in the SEC Tournament; the starters cutting up and laughing at the podium on Saturday; and Bam and De’Aaron clutching each other as they sobbed last night. As Fox said, that was a locker room that cared, not just about the glory, but about each other, and seeing it come to such a painful end was shattering.
So, where will this group land in terms of legacy? This is subjective, so everyone will have a different answer, but for me, the 2012, 2015, and 2010 teams will always be at the top in the Calipari era. Even though only one won a national championship, all three teams were just special. From there, I’d go with the 2014 team because that run felt like destiny and taught us never to give up. I keep waffling on whether this team or the 2011 team comes next, but I think we can all agree that 2016 and 2013 round out the eight seasons. Had Luke Maye missed that shot and Kentucky gone on to win in overtime, would the 2017 team rank higher? Probably. But like I said last night, that’s the cruelest part of all of this: just as this team was really coming into its own, it was over. The videos of the players crying in the locker room were doubly as heartbreaking because you realized just how much this team cares. The fact that had they won, the path to the title was so wide open is just salt in the wound. Right now, it all feels like a journey cut short, a dream never fully realized, destined to lie behind the hazy curtain of “what if.”
…But, for 40 or so hours this weekend, it felt right. Life again on scorched Earth. And for this fan, that counts for something.
By Nick Roush on ©March 27th, 2017 @ 3:00pm
John Calipari may have not got the best draw in the NCAA Tournament, but he couldn’t have asked for a better selection at the McDonald’s All-American Game. Four Kentucky commits — Quade Green, Nick Richards, P.J. Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt — are teammates with Kevin Knox and Mohamed Bamba, Calipari’s remaining two targets in the class of 2017.
“They’re in my ear 24/7 talking about how good it is to play with each other and how we’re getting along with each other,” Knox said after this morning’s practice. Bamba’s description is the same: “Non-stop. Non-stop. Seriously, non-stop.”
Bamba is third-ranked player in the 2017 class. The lengthy 7-footer is down to Kentucky, Duke, Michigan and Texas. Knox is the eighth-ranked player in the class, choosing between the Cats, Duke, North Carolina and Florida State.
Knox is also hearing it from Duke players, but the Cats have another ace-in-the-hole: P.J. Washington’s father, Paul.
“Him and my Dad are really close. They always talk at every camp. My mom and his mom are really close.” Knox said Paul asked him after practice, “‘How does it feel playing with Jarred and P.J. and Quade?’ He’s recruiting me too. It’s all fun when my parents and their parents get together. It never stops. They’re always in my ear.”
Green’s form of recruiting simple. “When I see Mo and Kevin, I just tell ’em ‘BBN’ and walk away from ’em.”
Washington might be the biggest talker of the bunch and he’s feeling pretty good about the Cats’ chances. “We’re trying to get them and I feel like we have a really good chance to get both of them.”
Jarred Vanderbilt echoed Washington’s statement.
“I’ve been in Mo’s ear all weekend. Kev too. We’re trying to make a dynasty,” Vanderbilt said. “I feel like we got some good chances. They’re still a work in progress but I think I we can get ’em.”
Knox will be making his decision during Spring Break after the Jordan Brand Game. He initially planned on announcing in March, but wanted to see how the college basketball season ended.
“That’s one of the reasons I pushed it back from March to April is to wait to see how people did in the tournament, what people are leaving, what people are staying. That’s definitely going to play a big part in my decision.”
When the small forward was discussing each of his finalists, I laughed a little when I heard, “Duke, they lost pretty early.” Knox cracked a smile when he started talking about his Kentucky-bound teammates. “I’m on a team with all the Kentucky commits. It’s good to play with them. They like to run and gun.”
Bamba’s perspective on Duke is different than I’ve ever heard before, validating those who say Coach K’s time as the Team USA head coach is a recruiting advantage.
“With Duke, you get something a little bit different because you’re getting three different brands,” Bamba said. “You’re getting the university, you’re getting the program and you’re getting Coach K. Coach K has his own global brand, which is pretty outstanding.”
When Bamba visited UK’s campus, he was taken aback seeing the walls filled with NBA players and banners at the Joe Craft Center, but that will not be the primary reason he chooses Kentucky.
“I really like their coaching staff and I really like the players that are coming in next year.”
Next year’s players have two more days in Chicago to convince two more All-Americans to become Cats.
Sunday’s loss was heartbreaking, but we still love our Cats! Congrats to Coach Cal and the team on a great season!
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It seemed touch and go there for a minute last night, but the sun did come up this morning, although here in Nashville, it’s shrouded in clouds, which suits my mood perfectly. After rolling into town in the wee hours and getting a few hours of sleep, the loss to North Carolina still sucks, but as with all things, we must move on.
1. At least the season ended with a game like that?
At times yesterday, it felt like North Carolina was going to run away with the game, but as they have all year, Kentucky rallied, refusing to give up until the very last second. The Tar Heels were up seven with a minute left, but thanks to some clutch threes from De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, the Cats tied it up with 10 seconds left. Unfortunately, the basketball gods had a different ending in mind and Luke Maye, a former walk-on, cemented himself in UNC lore with the game-winning shot with three seconds left. No shot will ever hurt as much as Christian Laettner’s 25 years ago (ironically, both wear #32), but Maye’s will sting for a long time to come.
2. If you’re still angry about the refs, well, so is Calipari
Complaining about the refs after a loss is petty, but the officiating was so horrendous in the first half, it’s merited. Questionable calls on the Cats and a lack of calls on the Heels put almost all of Kentucky’s starters on the bench for most of the first half, and it was the first thing on Calipari’s mind when he took the podium after the game:
“You know, it’s amazing that we were in that game where they practically fouled out my team. Amazing that we had a chance. So proud of how these guys fought,” Cal said. “I told them at halftime, it is what it is. And you’ve got to beat who’s out there, and let’s go, and don’t worry about it.”
3. Burn the tape
Calipari echoed all of our thoughts when he told reporters last night he has no desire to watch the tape of that game ever again.
“When that three went in and it tied the game, I probably should have called a time-out. It entered my mind, but they got that son-of-a-b in so quick, I couldn’t get to anybody to do it. But I needed to stop that right there. Someone said, well, what happened? I said, I don’t know, and I probably will never know because I won’t watch this tape, and I never watch the last tape of the season. Watched enough tapes all year. Watched a thousand tapes. I’m not watching a thousand and one.”
4. The locker room was heartbreaking
I was so far back that the only video I could get was of the backs of other people’s heads, but De’Aaron Fox’s sobs echoed through the room and will probably haunt me for a long time. Fox did most of the talking for his brothers, and after watching the heartbreaking video, I don’t know how anyone could claim that these players don’t care about the program.
Well, so much for that whole “no crying” thing.
5. There was no talk of who’s staying and who’s going
We know for certain that Kentucky’s three seniors are gone (although, if someone can figure out how to get an extra year of eligibility for any of them, you’ll be a legend in this state forever), but the trio of freshmen with the highest draft stock squashed any talk about whether or not they’re staying in school or going to the draft. With Fox and Monk projected to go in the top ten and Bam in the first round, they’re probably, definitely gone and although he’s not even on some draft boards, it feels like Briscoe is too. What about the rest, i.e. Wenyen Gabriel? With the new draft rules, he’ll probably test the waters and get feedback, which is entirely merited. Given that he only played four minutes last night, it’s hard to imagine a team picking him up, but you never know. Cruelly, yesterday was Wenyen’s birthday, and as the team headed back to Lexington, he sent out this sad, reflective tweet:
So blessed to have been part of such a great group. Gonna miss all my brothas and will never forget everything we went though together #BBN
— UPMΛN™ (@WenyenGabriel) March 27, 2017
6. Lexington didn’t handle the loss too well
If you expected UK students to handle the loss well, well, you haven’t met many college students. Thankfully, there were no arrests or significant fires, but two people were taken to the hospital. Here’s a video from the Herald-Leader:
7. Where does this one rank in terms of heartbreak?
The comparisons to Laettner’s shot are inevitable, especially since it’s the 25th anniversary and both he and Maye wear the same number, but this morning on Twitter, someone asked me which hurts more, and it’s got to be Laettner, right? Try as I might, Luke Maye doesn’t even seem like a hatable guy, whereas Laettner was a total punk. I’m sure this depends mostly on age, but for me, this ranks third in terms of heartbreak behind Wisconsin and The Shot. Nothing will ever top the loss to Wisconsin in 2015, something I oddly took some comfort in last night.
Again, everyone’s different. Chime in with your thoughts in the comments.
8. Fans met the team at the airport
I just put this up in the post before this one, but a group of fans met the team at the airport, a small solace for a group that’s really hurting right now:
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) March 27, 2017
9. Brace yourself for the haters
The usual suspects spent the night trolling the BBN on Twitter and it’s only going to get worse today. For some reason, even Louisville fans started chirping at me, which seems hilarious because Kentucky got farther than they did, but hey, that’s what the mute and block button are for. Also, if you do follow him for some reason, go ahead and do yourself a favor and block Clay Travis. You’re welcome.
10. Group therapy begins at 10 a.m.
Let’s all grieve together on the radio show, which starts in about a half hour. Bring the tissues.
Where do you even start with a game like this? Coming in, we know this game would be tough, but I don’t think anyone anticipated that. In a way, this game felt like a microcosm of the entire season. North Carolina controlled the first half, but just when it looked like it could get out of hand, Kentucky rallied, making a gutsy comeback to take the lead with 6:41 left thanks to the unlikeliest of heroes. Isaac Humphries, who, two weeks ago, was questioning his future at Kentucky, hit the free throw to put the Cats ahead, and kept firing to push the lead to five with five minutes left. Unfortunately, for every big shot Kentucky made, North Carolina responded. The Tar Heels were up seven with a minute left, and it looked like Kentucky’s fate was sealed, but the Cats didn’t give up thanks to huge threes from De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk. Monk, who struggled most of the game, did as Monk does and drained a three to tie the score with ten seconds left, but North Carolina’s Luke Maye hit a jumper seven seconds later to seal the win. From there, the game, and Kentucky’s season, was over.
The dramatic ending aside, you can see why Kentucky lost. It seemed like the entire team was in foul trouble from the start, a point Calipari hammered home in the postgame presser.
“You know, it’s amazing that we were in that game where they practically fouled out my team,” Cal said. “Amazing that we had a chance. So proud of how these guys fought. So proud of Isaac. Can you imagine his first real opportunity to do this was in this game, and he performed? Amazing.”
The fact that Isaac scored 12 is just the tip of the bizarre iceberg. With so many players in foul trouble in the first half, Dominique Hawkins stepped up and carried the load, scoring ten points before halftime to keep the Cats within striking distance. Malik Monk, who had 47 vs. North Carolina in Vegas in December, was out of sorts, finishing with only 12 points, six of those in the final minute. De’Aaron Fox, who had 39 points on Friday night, finished with 13 from 5-14 from the floor. Bam Adebayo had 13 points, five from the free throw line.
Novels could be written about the officiating and yes, this matchup should have taken place in the Final Four and not the Elite Eight, but instead of focusing on the negative, I’m going to remember how this team rallied. The outcome clearly wasn’t what we had all hoped, but a few months ago, could you have imagined this team making it this far? If you’re looking for some solace, remember how bad things were in the middle of the conference season. A tearful De’Aaron Fox said it best.
“We went through that stretch and we lost those games and everybody talked about how we didn’t care. This isn’t a locker room that looks like guys don’t care. I love my brothers, man.”
In the past two months and especially the last seven games, this team endeared itself to the BBN. It was a fast and furious courtship, but this group was well on its way to becoming one of the most beloved of the Calipari era for their resiliency, fearlessness, and swagger.
The next few days will be full of speculation about who’s going to the draft and who’s coming back, but it speaks to the character of this squad that none of the players asked — many of which are projected to go in the top ten of the draft — were focusing on that.
“I really don’t know right now,” Malik Monk said. “I haven’t talked to my mom, brother, or coach yet. We’ll talk about that later.”
“I’m not thinking about that right now,” Fox said, cutting off a reporter. “I love these guys. I’m not thinking about what’s next.”
Right now, the cruelest part of today’s loss may feel like Luke Maye’s dagger, but I have a feeling in the weeks and months to come, it will be the fact that Kentucky’s season ended just as fans were falling in love with this squad.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 25th, 2017 @ 1:20am
How big was De’Aaron Fox’s night? His 39 points are the most ever by a freshman in an NCAA Tournament game. Fox was 13-20 from the floor and 13-15 from the line, while Lonzo Ball, considered by some (okay, his father) to be the future number one pick in the draft, only had 10 points. Fox has been on a tear in March, averaging 23 points, well above his 16.1 ppg average, and when squaring off vs. Ball tonight, he made a statement.
“Well, honestly since the postseason started, I’ve been in attack mode,” Fox said. “My teammates just kept going for me. We came in with a game plan. We knew with their bigs, we weren’t doing pick-and-rolls, and I mean, I just made shots today.”
Afterwards, Fox said he could tell early on it was going to be a “special night,” as Steve Alford put it.
“I think I scored like the first eight points of the game, and after that, I was like, you know, it’s going to be a good night for me. I mean, I just attribute that to all my teammates. We knew what the game plan is. Nobody is going to help off Malik, nobody is going to help off Derek, and literally every time, no matter what game, if I get it going, ‘Like and Derek are literally like, come to my side if you want a layup, if you a floater. Just do this or do that, and I listen to them. Even when I’m taking my guy one-on-one, it’s still a team thing because they’re telling me what to do and I’m just doing it. At the end of the day, Coach is putting me in position, my teammates put me in great positions, and all I’ve got to do is execute.”
Once Calipari sensed Fox was on fire, he told the team to step back and let him go to work.
“I am so proud of him, and today all I did at halftime is say, guys, are you watching this game? They said, yeah, okay, good, then you know we’re playing through De’Aaron Fox. The rest of you take a backseat, play off of him, but everything we’re doing good is through him the whole half. And they were ecstatic. Good. Let’s do it.”
What’s gotten into Fox? Dominique Hawkins wants to know too.
“I don’t know, y’all are going to have to ask him that,” Dom said of Fox’s big night. “I might need to ask him that too. He was terrific today. He couldn’t be stopped, and we just kept on giving him the ball.”
Malik Monk raved about his teammate’s leadership.
“Crazy,” Monk said of Fox’s growth as a leader. “He’s been a leader since he’s been playing basketball because I seen him on the circuit before. I mean, nothing changed, but he’s got way more physical and more smarter, and just listening to Coach, like I said, he’s gotten way more physical and way more smarter.”
And Kentucky is in the Elite Eight because of it.
1. Bye Lavar. As exciting as it is to see Kentucky advance to the Elite Eight, it’s almost equally exciting to know they silenced Lavar Ball. Lonzo’s daddy talked and talked and talked some more in the days leading up to the game (and all season), only to get the shut-up finger from the Wildcats and an early flight home.
2. De’Aaron Fox was unstoppable. The career-high 39 points from De’Aaron Fox came with ease as UCLA failed to stay in front of the Kentucky point guard. He got wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and nobody in a Bruin uniform was going to do anything about it. Fox has been in attack mode since before the SEC tournament and that has made him the most lethal scorer on this team. Ask Lonzo about him. Lonzo got the worst of it.
3. Malik Monk found his shot. Not only did De’Aaron Fox light up the scoreboard, but Malik Monk got back in Monk rhythm and had himself a hot night. Monk finished with 21 points after going scoreless for the first 10 minutes of the game, and he had a small stretch where he could not miss. It’s good to see he still has those flurries in him after fans began to wonder if he had lost his touch at the wrong time. Turns out, Monk is still alive and well.
4. Big Shot Dom. Dominique Hawkins hit three big three-pointers and did all the other things Old Reliable gives you each night. He’s playing like a guy who isn’t ready to go home early, and he may not have to if things go like they did tonight.
5. Bam Adebayo scored two points and Kentucky somehow won by 11. If you had told me Bam would’ve only scored two points before the game, I would’ve packed up my stuff right then and there and driven on back to Lexington.
6. Derek Willis scored eight but it could’ve been 20. Willis missed five of his seven three-point attempts and I swear all of them could’ve dropped. The good thing is he stuck with his shot, stayed confident and kept letting them fly, and eventually he saw two of them go in. Those eight rebounds helped out a lot, too.
7. Kentucky controlled the glass. UCLA took the battle of the boards in Lexington, but this one went to the Wildcats, 29-28.
8. Lonzo Ball got EXPOSED defensively. Kentucky went right at Lonzo Ball and Steve Alford had to put him in the corner, far away from the action, to keep Kentucky from scoring 200. UK’s offense hit him with ball screens and he clearly doesn’t know how to respond or defend those as he stopped in his tracks every time he caught a screen and the UK guards were able to go right around him. It was almost criminal how bad UK abused him.
9. Blue got in. It’s almost unfair how well the Big Blue Nation travels in the postseason and tonight was no different. The crowd brought the noise and carried the Cats over UCLA and that small section of fans who made the trip from Westwood. You’re the best, BBN.
10. North Carolina, bring it.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 24th, 2017 @ 4:00pm
It’s banner season in Lexington, and while 80% of the banners going up around UK’s campus aren’t exactly safe for work, there are some we can share with you. Enjoy, and, as always, if you see a great banner, send a picture to us on Twitter (@MrsTylerKSR, @RoushKSR, @KySportsRadio, @DrewFranklinKSR, etc. etc.).
To make up for kicking KSR out of the lobby during yesterday’s radio show, The Peabody invited Matt, Ryan, Shannon, and Drew to be honorary duckmasters for the famous Peabody Duck March this morning.
If you’ve never been before, the duck march is a big, big thing. The ducks come down from their home on the roof of The Peabody hotel at 11 a.m. every day to get in the fountain, and at 5 p.m., go back up for the night. The ceremony of bringing them down draws in over 200,000 visitors to The Peabody each year, and this morning, hundreds of people crowded around the fountain in the lobby to watch our motley crew do the honors. I’ve been coming to the Peabody to watch the march since I was a little girl, so getting to tag along to document the behind-the-scenes action was really, really cool.
Here’s the reserved seat and a close up of one of the duck canes Matt, Ryan, Drew, and Shannon received:
And the behind-the-scenes footage of us going up the elevator to get the ducks, one of the most surreal things we may have ever done:
And another angle of the big moment from our Facebook page:
Thanks again to The Peabody for inviting us to be part of such a big event. We are definitely #TeamDuck.
Those two words are the best best way to describe Malik Monk’s game. The freshman phenom from Lepanto, Arkansas has never disappointed. Kentucky has seen many great scorers, but Malik Monk gets hotter than characters on NBA Jam, achieving unprecedented awesomeness in Las Vegas against North Carolina by dropping 47 clutch points for the win.
A steamrolling locomotive who’s never seen a bad shot, Monk gets his. In high school, he never stopped shooting. John Calipari said he’d get tired watching him shoot so many shots. “How is he raising his arm again?”
They aren’t always falling, but they eventually will, just ask Florida (30 points after halftime), Georgia (31 after halftime) and South Carolina (30 after half).
Sometimes Monk takes bad shots, until they go in. The King of “No, No, No! YES!” shots, he might be a better shooter with a hand in his face than left wide open. To enjoy his greatness, you must learn to trust that Monk will be fine. Just give him some time and the once-in-a-generation scorer will eventually figure it out. In the meantime, he’ll throw in a few gym-clearing, SportsCenter Top Play dunks.
Until he got to the last game of the season.
For the first time in his Kentucky career, he didn’t reach double figures. After scoring just six points at Texas A&M, he only scored two points in the opening round of the SEC Tournament. Since the Texas A&M game, he’s hit just 5-of-26 threes (19%).
Many described it as a slump. Monk took question after question after question after question after question after question after question after question after from reporters about his shooting slump, but stayed the course.
He failed to hit a three-pointer against NKU, but I was not worried. “Shooter’s shoot,” and Monk continued to look like Malik Monk, his shots just weren’t falling.
Then, he didn’t look like Malik Monk.
WHAT IN THE WORLD WAS THAT?!?!?!?!!
Monk had a two-step advantage on Shamet and two other Shockers. This is the part where we hold our breath, anticipating the death of an opponent with a poster that would make Michael Jordan proud. Even if Shamet’s life didn’t end with a dunk, Monk’s high-flying acrobatics guaranteed an amazing, finesse finish.
We didn’t see either. We saw Malik Monk hesitate. The dude best defined as a “dog” hesitated. Instead of fight, we saw flight, and a missed layup.
It got worse.
Two possessions later, Monk got the ball in a much more comfortable position: off a staggered screen with an incoming ball screen from Derek Willis. The pop from Willis for a three would ensure a wide open lane, best described as “playtime” for the prolific scorer.
He hesitated, again.
Drawing Bam Adebayo’s defender, instead of taking and making a soft floater down the middle of the lane or dunking on his face, Monk opted for the floating lob to Bam, a pass Adebayo confused for a shot.
For the first all season, this question was valid: “What is wrong with Malik Monk?”
Malik Monk doesn’t hesitate. He goes 100 percent. Like a bull in a china shop, Monk’s eye are always on his favorite prize: buckets. But that didn’t happen at the start of the Wichita State game.
Malik Monk didn’t look like Malik Monk.
The game against Wichita State quickly turned into a knock-down, drag-em-out, defensive struggle. With refs opting not to use their whistle against contact inside, at one point in the first half six minutes past before a whistle was blown and subs could enter the game.
The conditions for Monk to work out of his funk were not ideal. Still, Malik Monk found a way to be Malik Monk, but differently than Kentucky fans had ever seen him.
The second half grind gave neither team a decisive offensive advantage. With his shot still not falling, Monk used his skills elsewhere. A block, a defensive rebound, an assist, then another. Finally, Monk found a way to make a shot: at the free throw line. The two made free throws with just under six minutes to play were just what he needed.
The Cats looked like they might fall apart. After building a significant lead, De’Aaron Fox fouled Shamet on a three-pointer. The mistake shook the momentum the Shockers’ way, now trailing by just two with 2:30 minutes to play.
Malik Monk proved he’s still a killer.
Monk didn’t need any space. He didn’t need to hit a bunch of shots. He just needed to hit one. He was not finished.
The Shockers were not fazed, immediately answering with a three of their own. Fox responded with a ferocious dunk. The game was turning into a back-and-forth offensive battle…or so we thought.
After Monk’s jumper rattled around the rim, Wichita State needed a bucket to take the lead. Monk couldn’t do enough, we thought, until he iced the game.
Monk followed the incredible blocked shot by nailing two clutch free throws, the final points of the game. The volume scorer helped get the win not be scoring, but with assists and defense, as noted by Tom Leach on the radio broadcast after Monk’s block.
“Those two things you mentioned might pull him out of the slump he’s in,” Mike Pratt said.
Even if it doesn’t, we saw Monk transform into a complete player against Wichita State. His shot wasn’t falling, but it didn’t keep him out of the game. De’Aaron Fox got layups by driving at Monk. He made defensive stops and eliminated second chance opportunities. He made Kentucky better without scoring 20 points.
They say the Cats can’t keep winning without 20 points a game from Monk, but I think the Cats can keep winning with this version of Malik Monk.