Clutch, cold-blooded, ice in his veins, ax murderer, animal, GOAT, unforgettable, unconscious, unpresidented, ridiculous, ONIONS.
All of those words were used to describe Malik Monk’s 47-point performance against North Carolina, but none of those words do him, or the unbelievably spectacular game, justice.
When Kentucky and North Carolina meet there’s never a dull moment, but of all the “instant classics,” this one might have been the most exhilarating. As soon as the ball tipped-off, it was a back-and-forth affair.
In the first half each team shot 53% from the field, over 42% from the three-point line and combined for 107 points. De’Aaron Fox could not be stopped in the lane, scoring 11 with 7 assists, but North Carolina’s point guard Joel Berry countered with 13 points of his own. The Cats could not stop Justin Jackson, who went for 20 in the first twenty minutes, but they could answer offensively with Monk.
Monk surpassed his career-high with 27 in the first half. He was feeling it from the start. “We usually run a play for me the first play of the game. If I make it I’m usually on. When we ran a play or me and I made it, I knew I was going to make the rest.”
The first half was a fast-paced shootout, only slowed by the referees’ whistle. The second half featured plenty of break-aways, but the pace slowed, in part thanks to Roy Williams’ zone defense. He didn’t implement it often, first around the 12-minute mark, but he switched the defenses enough to force Kentucky into a half court game. It did not faze them at first, but as the game grew longer, the score got closer.
Kentucky led most of the way in the four to ten point range. This slam from Bam Adebayo put Kentucky up seven with 5:08 to play.
– Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 18, 2016
That was the last time Kentucky’s lead felt comfortable. A double foul on Adebayo and Kennedy Meeks sent Meeks to the bench for good, with Bam following shortly after. The Cats had to turn to Isaac Humphries and Wenyen Gabriel for big plays in the post. It almost cost them.
North Carolina continued to climb back, tying the game just under the three-minute mark. Kentucky simply couldn’t get a stop. Then, Monk was ready to save the day with 1:51 to play. He stole the ball near the three-point line and sprinted down the court with only one man to beat. Drawing the defender, Monk opted for the oop. His pass to Wenyen felt bad from the start.
Justin Jackson knocked down a three-pointer shortly after the flubbed fast break. It looked like that miscue could cost the Wildcats.
Monk wasn’t finished.
Malik Monk countered Jackson’s three by hitting one of his own. On the next defensive possession, Kentucky gave up an offensive rebound, keeping the Tar Heels’ hopes alive. Jackson used the extra time to hit a tough ‘And 1’ off a curl screen.
Hope was dwindling from the Big Blue Nation, but Malik Monk was never swayed. With 20 seconds on the clock, he pump-faked and pulled, capping off a phenomenal 47-point performance with a clutch three, bringing back beloved memories of Aaron Harrison to the Big Blue Nation.
Monk was Not Alone
The guy who scores 47 points gets all of the press, but De’Aaron Fox played arguably his best game as a Wildcat. Fox scored a career-high 24 points and dished out 10 assists for his fourth double-double. Fox’s decision-making has never been better, limiting his contested jump shot attempts and committing only two turnovers.
Fox and Monk’s 71 points are the most points by a UK duo in a game since Dan Issel and Mike Pratt combined for 78 vs. LSU in 1970.
Rebound, Rebound, Rebound
If there was one concern John Calipari had heading into today’s game, it was Kentucky’s ability to rebound against North Carolina. The Tar Heels entered the game ranked No. 1 in rebounding margin, No. 5 in offensive rebounding and No. 5 in total rebounds.
Even though they surrendered a few crucial offensive rebounds down the stretch, the Wildcats did not disappoint. Kentucky out-rebounded UNC 39-35; 15 came from the offensive glass compared to Carolina’s 10.
Most people will focus on the 103 points Kentucky scored, but some people will scoff at the 100 they surrendered. I implore those people not to get hung up on the numbers. They were playing a great team that hit big shots that were usually contested. However, there is one problem.
If T.J. Leaf and Justin Jackson have taught us anything it’s that Kentucky struggles against athletic forwards that stretch the floor. Kentucky simply doesn’t have anyone to guard them. Briscoe is too small, Willis is too slow. Wenyen Gabriel fits the mold, but he just isn’t a good defender. Can he improve? Of course. He’ll learn the nuances of the game and become a better communicator during Camp Cal, but that can only do so much.
It’s safe to say we’ve found this team’s Kryptonite.
So-So for Bam-Bam
Bam Adebayo frustrates many fans because he refuses to dunk on people’s faces. Before fouling out (way too early) he had 13 points and 7 rebounds, but he was 6-11 from the field. Half of those misses were at the rim. His final two was the dunk from the video above. That’s the Bam everyone wants to see and we will see soon enough. He’s just getting started.
It’s important to appreciate what we just witnessed. A pair of top ten blue bloods went toe-to-toe for more than 100 points. A stone cold killer from Arkansas tied the freshman record for three-pointers in a game, broke the freshman record for points in a game by scoring 47, something only four other Wildcats can claim: Jodie Meeks, Bob Burrow, Cliff Hagan and Dan Issel.
Tonight we witnessed greatness. There are thousands of different words you could use to try to describe the game, but only one works: unforgettable.