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How Malik Monk set the Champions Classic on Fire

Malik Monk made seven 3-pointers in Kentucky’s big win over Michigan State. How?

NCAA Basketball: Champions Classic-Kentucky vs Michigan State
Malik Monk dropped seven 3-pointers on Michigan State this past Tuesday.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

From the first two games in Kentuckys young season, it looked like Malik Monk winning the 3-point contest during the McDonald’s All-American Game festivities was just a one-night show.

Monk hit just three of his 12 attempts from long range against Stephen F. Austin and Canisius for the Wildcats, and shot just 36 percent from the field in those games, including a woeful 25 percent from deep.

Tuesday night reminded the Big Blue Nation just how good of a scorer (and a shooter) Malik Monk can be. Monk drained seven (!) of his 11 (!!) attempts from 3-point range and dropped a game-high 23 points in a 69-48 victory to move the ‘Cats to 3-0.

The importance of Monk’s shooting on Tuesday night cannot be overstated. Monk was 7-of-11 from deep. The rest of the Kentucky roster was 0-for-10 from beyond the arc. Derek Willis only attempted one shot in 16 minutes, while De’Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe missed all of their five combined attempts from 3-point range.

How did Malik Monk torch the nets against Sparty? Let’s take a look at Monk’s eight makes from the field. (Yeah, he had one other shot make that came inside the arc.)

First triple

First off, Monk’s first two shot attempts (and makes) are going to look similar, so let’s just get that out of the way right now.

After Eron Harris hit a pull-up jumper at the right elbow, an overlooked thing in Monk’s first make was Wenyen Gabriel quickly grabbing the ball and inbounding the ball to De’Aaron Fox.

It’s no secret that Kentucky likes to play quick, especially with this crop of freshman studs. Gabriel inbounded the ball to De’Aaron Fox, who took one dribble, and passed the ball up quickly to Monk, who drained a one-dribble pull-up 3 in rhythm.

Second triple

Like I noted a bit ago, this make from Monk was basically the same as his first.

Cassius Winston took a long rebound coast-to-coast for the layup for Michigan State. Instead of Gabriel inbounding the ball, Fox takes the ball out and dishes quickly to Isaiah Briscoe, who did what Fox did earlier with one dribble and the lengthy pass up to Monk.

If Monk is able to walk into 3-pointers like this with rhythm, just start running back the other way.

Third triple

Monk’s first 3 that didn’t come in transition came off a De’Aaron Fox assist — one of his six on the night — in a half-court set.

The ‘Cats run some weave action with Fox, Isaac Humphries and Wenyen Gabriel, and as Fox receives the pass from Gabriel, Edrice “Bam” Adebayo comes to set a screen for Fox. Michigan State appears to hedge the screen-and-roll look with Fox and Adebayo, so Fox looks to drive.

On the drive, Matt McQuaid comes off Monk to basically double Fox, which gives Monk all the space he needs on the wing for a look at the rim. Fox makes the pass and Monk shoots another 3 in rhythm and hits nothing but nylon.

(It also helps that De’Aaron Fox is absurdly fast, so it does make a bit of sense for McQuaid to come off to help on the drive, but not when someone like Monk is already hitting shots.)

Fourth triple

Isaiah Briscoe calls out “ELBOW” in the half-court for the ‘Cats on this Monk make.

Derek Willis comes out to the right elbow at the line to catch a pass from Briscoe. The next part was the easy part for Monk. All he had to do was come receive a handoff from Willis, who was setting a screen, take and make his fourth 3 in six attempts in the first half.

The reason why Monk had the space to make this shot was because Joshua Langford thought Monk would look to attack around the screen, so he was preparing to work around the Willis screen. Monk drifted back and had plenty of space to shoot, which on this night, was a problem for Michigan State.

Fifth triple (plus a De’Aaron Fox block)

Monk’s fifth 3 of the night came from the right corner over former UK target Miles Bridges, who had more turnovers (9) than points (6) on Tuesday night.

After De’Aaron Fox’s nasty block on one end, Monk grabbed the ball and brought the ball into the front court, and gave it back to Fox to set up the offense.

Michigan State showed a hedge in a potential Isaac Humphries screen, so with two defenders watching Fox, Monk was hanging on in the corner with Bridges lingering around the lane.

Once again, that’s too much space for Monk.

Sixth triple

This was a team make for the ‘Cats, even though the box score won’t say so.

Before Monk drains this “I’m on fire” attempt from deep, two plays should be noted: 1) Dominique Hawkins deflecting a pass after Monk missed a layup attempt and keeping the ball with Kentucky and 2) Wenyen Gabriel’s offensive rebound that led to Monk’s sixth 3 of the night.

Seventh triple

Monk’s final make from long range on the evening came off a great extra pass from Derek Willis.

Isaiah Briscoe looked to create in the lane, but lost his footing. The crazy thing about that is Briscoe still makes a great pass to Willis in the right corner, who makes the quick extra pass to Monk for the wide-open triple.

The key in Monk getting this much space was thanks to Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn, Jr. getting caught watching the ball and losing track of Monk and how much space he had.

Monk making seven 3-pointers on 11 attempts isn’t going to be a common trend throughout this season, but it appears he’s found his confidence with his shot, and that’s just scary to think about in terms of Kentucky’s future this season.