Malik Monk set a Kentucky freshman record with 47 points and De’Aaron Fox chipped in with 23 points and ten assists of his own as No. 6 Kentucky knocked off No. 7 North Carolina in a thriller in the CBS Sports Classic, 103-100.
Monk’s 47 points are the most anyone in college basketball has scored this season. He buried a pair of threes in the final two minutes – including one with 15 seconds left to give Kentucky a 103-100 lead – to seal the game:
“I said drive it and he shot a three and it went in,” John Calipari said after the game. “Way to go, kid.”
The magnitude of this performance shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Only one Kentucky player in the last two decades has topped the 47 points that he scored on Saturday afternoon in Las Vegas – Jodie Meeks, who went for 54 points in 2009. Monk is a guy that’s starting to develop a reputation for thriving under the bright lights, but that’s not the only reputation that Monk has.
As a star in high school and on the AAU circuit, Monk was known for his streakiness and his inconsistency. He’d have a performance like this one night and then turn around and shoot 2-for-18 in a loss the next. The question was whether or not that would follow him to the college level. Could a guy who was known for running hot and cold carry a team as the only real perimeter scoring threat?
Saturday taught us just how good Kentucky can be when Monk is good.
Keep in mind, this wasn’t just any team that the Wildcats dispatched. This was No. 7 North Carolina who was in the midst of playing their best game of the season. Justin Jackson had a career-high 34 points. Joel Berry II finished with 23 points and seven assists.
This wasn’t a fluke. It was a statement.
Monk can carry this team.
But it also is a cause for concern, not because of Monk, but because Kentucky needed this kind of a performance to win a game they seemed to be in control of for 40 minutes.
Monk scored 24 points in the first 15 minutes to help Kentucky open up a double-figure first half lead. He and De’Aaron Fox, who finished with 23 points and 10 assists, kept that lead at a comfortable margin throughout much of the second half. And still, in the final two minutes, Monk needed two hit two threes for UK to survive.
It begs the question: What happens on the nights when Monk doesn’t have a performance that will find its way into the history books?
We may already have an answer. Two weeks ago, Monk scored 24 points – five above his average – and Fox had 20 points and nine assists in a loss to No. 2 UCLA in Rupp Arena.
This win was proof that Monk can carry Kentucky, that Monk and Fox are good enough to lead the Wildcats to a win against anyone.
But it was also proof that the Wildcats need to be more than just a two-man team if they’re going to bring title No. 9 back to Lexington.