LEXINGTON, KY - JANUARY 31:  Malik Monk #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball during the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Rupp Arena on January 31, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

No. 15 Kentucky takes down Alabama

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Kentucky survived foul trouble and a late Alabama rally as the No. 15 Wildcats held on for a 67-58 SEC road win on Saturday afternoon.

Coming off of a recent sluggish stretch that included a blowout loss at Florida and a poor defensive effort in a home win over LSU, the Wildcats (20-5, 10-2) had an impressive early surge to build a lead as big as 18 as they led by double-digits for much of the game.

Things started to turn when Kentucky freshman big man Bam Adebayo (14 points, seven rebounds) fouled out with a little over six minutes left, giving the Crimson Tide a sliver of hope. Alabama cut it to within six with under two minutes left but sophomore Isaiah Briscoe (11 points, 11 rebounds) made a lot of key buckets down the stretch to keep the Crimson Tide down.

Freshman Malik Monk (17 points) had a so-so shooting game but ended up with 14 points while senior Derek Willis had a key three-pointer out of a timeout with just over a minute left to effectively seal the game.

Kentucky only shot 21 percent from three-point range but their defense looked way better than recent performances as they closed out harder on shooters and helped force 16 Alabama turnovers.

Alabama (14-9, 7-4) shot themselves in the foot with a lot of missed free throws and turnovers as they did everything they could to dig out of the early hole. The slower tempo certainly helped the Crimson Tide but shooting 9-for-26 from the free-throw line is going to kill you.

Braxton Key led the Crimson Tide with 21 points while Dazon Ingram added 12 points. Alabama lost this hard-fought battle to Kentucky, but they played hard in front of a sold-out crowd that got to see some of this team’s young talent.

No. 8 Kentucky overcomes slow start to beat Georgia in overtime

LEXINGTON, KY - JANUARY 31:  Malik Monk #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball during the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Rupp Arena on January 31, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Kentucky found itself down 12-0 and blew a late second-half lead but rallied behind guards Malik Monk and Isaiah Briscoe for a 90-81 overtime SEC home win over Georgia on Tuesday night.

The No. 8 Wildcats (18-4, 8-1) snapped their two-game losing streak as they played without freshman guard De’Aaron Fox, who sat out the game due to illness.  Kentucky clearly missed Fox’s presence on both ends of the floor. Using a new starting lineup featuring Isaac Humphries that slid Derek Willis to the three, Kentucky didn’t get going until Monk started hitting shots.

The freshman erupted for 37 points as he got hot from the perimeter and went 7-for-11 from three-point range. It was yet another performance for Monk to add in his Player of the Year discussion, especially since Fox was out o the lineup on Tuesday. Sophomore Isaiah Briscoe also had an outstanding overall floor game for the Wildcats as he just missed a triple-double with 23 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

One concerning thing about this win for Kentucky is the lack of help from anyone besides Briscoe and Monk. Without Fox on the floor, the Wildcats needed another scorer to help those two but nobody could really get going. Freshman big man Bam Adebayo (12 points) had a late three-point play and got going a bit in the second half and overtime but he was quiet for too long.

Georgia (13-9, 4-5) looked like they were going to capitalize on the Wildcats’ uninspired start but they eventually gave up that lead and found the game tied by halftime.

Junior forward Yante Maten continued to show that he’s one of the most underrated players in the country as he finished with 22 points. Senior guard J.J. Frazier (23 points) and big man Derek Ogbeide (career- high 18 points, 13 rebounds) also had solid games for the Bulldogs.

Georgia missed out on a golden opportunity to get a win that could put them in the NCAA tournament discussion since the bubble is so soft. The Bulldogs won against Texas over the weekend but they’ve now lost four of five SEC games. It doesn’t get any easier for Georgia from here as they have back-to-back games against ranked teams with a road game at South Carolina and a home game against Florida.

Monk fuels No. 6 Kentucky past Auburn

LEXINGTON, KY - JANUARY 14: Malik Monk #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats drives to the basket against T.J. Dunans #4 of the Auburn Tigers in the first half of the game at Rupp Arena on January 14, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Kentucky used a second-half surge to pull away from Auburn as the No. 6 Wildcats ran away with a 92-72 SEC home win on Saturday afternoon.

The Wildcats (15-2, 5-0) were only up, 70-64, with a little over eight minutes but used a 22-8 run to close out the game as the team’s offense once again showed why they are among the best in the country. Freshman guard Malik Monk led Kentucky with 24 points on the night as the Wildcats shot a red-hot 57 percent (11-for-19) from three-point range.

Bam Adebayo added 15 points and eight rebounds for Kentucky while De’Aaron Fox (13 points), Mychal Mulder (12 points) and Isaiah Briscoe (10 points) also finished in double-figures.

Auburn (11-6, 1-4) was led by T.J. Dunans’ 23 points while freshman Mustapha Heron had 11 points.

If Kentucky shoots 57 percent from three-point range they are going to be nearly impossible to stop — and it wasn’t just Monk was going bananas and hitting all the deep jumpers. Monk hit four three-pointers and kept up his normal pace but inconsistent shooters like Briscoe went 2-for-2 while Wenyen Gabriel (six points, 16 rebounds) was 2-for-3 from distance as well.

Auburn was able to stay in the game for longer because of some woeful free-throw shooting from Kentucky. The Wildcats’ were only 17-for-32 (52 percent) from the free-throw line — well below their season average of 69 percent — but that might only be a one-game issue and not a long-term problem.

 

Five-star guard Hamidou Diallo commits to Kentucky

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Five-star Class of 2017 guard Hamidou Diallo made things interesting in the recruiting world by committing to Kentucky on Saturday evening during a scheduled announcement. Diallo announced between a final list that included Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and UConn but he only took official visits to see Kentucky and UConn in the last few weeks.

The 6-foot-6 Diallo is a unique case because he graduated high school last year and was doing a year of postgrad ball at Putnam Science Academy before deciding to go to college in the middle of the season. Diallo can enroll immediately at Kentucky for the second semester and the Wildcats can either use him this season or redshirt him and play him next season. There’s also the additional wrinkle of Diallo being eligible for the 2017 NBA Draft — since he can use the Thon Maker way to go pro.

If Diallo plays immediately for Kentucky then he isn’t going to take starting minutes from De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Isaiah Briscoe. Those guys are doing just fine in Kentucky’s starting lineup. But Diallo could provide valuable depth and another athletic defender on the perimeter. Dominique Hawkins is an experienced senior who is good at pressuring the ball. Diallo could join him in a Kentucky perimeter second unit that can really get after the ball handler.

One NCAA tournament coach at USA Basketball tryouts last summer said Diallo was among the best trap defenders he had ever coached. So if Diallo is unleashed off the bench in a full-court trap situation that could be a nice weapon to have in certain situations.

If Diallo redshirts then it would be a good sign that he’s not going to look towards the NBA and would likely go to Kentucky for the 2017-18 season. Diallo is an athletic freak who can play well above the rim, rebound from the perimeter and defend multiple spots on the floor but he does have holes in his game.

Adding a more consistent perimeter jumper to his game would be very beneficial to Diallo’s development — and NBA draft perceptions — and he could also stand to improve his overall offensive polish. Far from a finished product, Diallo is a huge prospect if he can add the skill level to match.

Since the 2017 NBA Draft is so loaded this season — I mean, you’ve seen all these freshmen we’ve been talking about, right? — it would be tough for Diallo to make a dent in mock drafts if his intentions are to be a first-round draft pick this summer. This would be especially true since Kentucky has so many quality guards earning minutes in front of him and Diallo likely wouldn’t get much of a chance to shine — if he even plays in the first place.

But there is still plenty of time for Diallo to be molded into an ideal NBA two-guard and he could give Kentucky a nice additional toy to play with off the bench for the rest of the season.

If Diallo also happens to stick around for the 2017-18 season it would give the Wildcats a joke of a recruiting class that would include five, five-star players — point guard Quade Green, Diallo, forward Jarred Vanderbilt, forward P.J. Washington, center Nick Richards — and four-star guard Shai Alexander.

Kentucky’s John Calipari gets the TMZ treatment

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Head coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats talks with Malik Monk #5, De'Aaron Fox #0, and Wenyen Gabriel #32 in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Kentucky head coach John Calipari will always take an opportunity to talk on camera and he did so again over the weekend in a brief video on TMZ.

After TMZ asked Calipari a couple of questions about his recently released book they got the veteran head coach to answer a question about the one-and-done rule.

TMZ Reporter: “How do we keep players there [at Kentucky] more than one year? Is there any chance we can keep them there more than a year?”

Calipari: “Well, if it’s your son, you want him out in a year to go to the NBA. If it’s someone else’s son, you want him in for four years… Look, I’m for the kids. Whatever is best for them, I’m all in.”

This is the sort of response that we’ve come to expect from Calipari when it comes to Kentucky and how they use the one-and-done rule and they’ve been the most successful program in the country when it comes to recruiting elite freshmen.

But Calipari does bring up a valid point with the one-and-done rule. Fans often look at rules like the one-and-done from a perspective that will personally benefit them — meaning the fans want their favorite program’s players to stay around for as long as they’re allowed.

Calipari obviously has to cater to the thoughts and beliefs of his fanbase — since he’s a college head coach who has to deal with boosters and prominent alums — but he’s also the guy who has to sit in living rooms across America explaining to parents how he’s going to help their five-star son achieve professional basketball dreams. Having to straddle that fine line, Calipari has done a great job of getting Big Blue Nation used to the idea of cheering for elite freshmen while also getting those same Kentucky fans to buy into the idea of team-building that is based around mostly freshmen.

The results have given the Wildcats a national championship and a lot of NBA lottery picks the last few seasons but the one-and-done approach has also given Cal plenty of detractors among the college basketball community. No matter what anyone believes, now that the one-and-done rule is staying in the new NBA collective bargaining agreement we’ll have more arguments about this sort of thing for at least a few more years.

Besides all the one-and-done talk, how about Calipari making it on TMZ? College basketball almost never makes the news and gossip site’s radar unless Drake shows up to something. So Calipari getting on TMZ is more proof that he’s the game’s best when it comes to promoting himself and his program.

VIDEO: Malik Monk does more Malik Monk things during Kentucky’s big win

Malik Monk (Kentucky Athletics)
Malik Monk (Kentucky Athletics)
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A few weeks into the season. Kentucky freshman guard Malik Monk has firmly established himself as one of this season’s must-watch players.

The 6-foot-3 Monk had some more highlight-reel plays during the Wildcats’ blowout win over UT-Martin on Friday as he put down back-to-back uncontested breakaway dunks.

Monk finished with 26 points to lead the No. 1 Wildcats in the win.

(H/T: Wildcat Dunks)