"Coach Cal told me to drive, but I was hot, so I didn’t."
Hey, when you’re Malik Monk and you have 44 points on 27 shots after you just hit a huge 3-pointer to tie the best college basketball game of the season at 98 with 1:20 left, you can have that swagger.
Monk had all of the swagger ... and then some on Saturday night in Las Vegas. It took all of the swagger and confidence to put on the greatest single-game performance of the John Calipari era at Kentucky in a 103-100 win over No. 7 North Carolina.
Monk hit two triples — one to tie the game at 98 and one to put the ‘Cats head for good with less than 20 seconds left — that stole the headlines, the show, the winnings at the casinos, and a higher position on some NBA scouts’ draft boards.
Both 3-pointers had Kentucky fans reminiscing of the DeAndre Liggins dagger (and his defensive performance) from the 2011 Elite Eight matchup against the Tar Heels that led to Calipari giving him the best hug in history.
(OK, you were really thinking about Aaron Harrison’s daggers against Michigan and Wisconsin from the 2014 title game run, weren’t you?)
Only four players in Kentucky’s long and illustrious history have scored more points in a single game than Monk’s 47 against UNC: Bob Burrow, Cliff Hagan, Dan Issel (twice) and Jodie Meeks lighting the city of Knoxville on fire back in 2007.
What made Monk’s performance so special and the overall best of the Calipari era wasn’t just the amount of points. (Although, it’s sort of a big deal.) It was how Monk dropped an almost-50-burger on one of the country’s best teams.
“We usually run a play for me on the first play of the game, and if I make it, I’m usually on.”
Once again, those are Malik Monk’s words.
That quote came during his immediate post-game interview with CBS and Calipari alongside him for a second.
He wasn’t wrong about that.
On the first offensive possession for the ‘Cats on Saturday, Monk used a screen from Wenyen Gabriel at the left elbow on North Carolina’s Kenny Williams to free himself for the jumper. Williams still contested the short fairly well, but when you’re (going to be) on, you’re on.
Calipari spoke during his press conference after the win and mentioned that after the UCLA loss — Kentucky’s lone loss of the year — he inserted more plays in the playbook for Monk to touch and shoot the rock. It showed on this play and throughout the evening.
Same concept, but this one was worth more points
Gabriel set Monk another great screen around the left elbow after Monk showed a possible baseline cut or the potential for Bam Adebayo to throw the backdoor lob (which ... doesn’t seem too likely, but you never know with this talent).
Williams gets way out of position to really contest a potential swing to Monk on the perimeter for a shot and it showed. Monk got a clear look at the basket off the Gabriel pick and he drained the first of his eight (!) 3-pointers. (He’s made 17 of his 38 3-point makes this season in the last four games, including eight on Saturday.)
The most “I’m in the zone, Coach” shot that wasn’t the game-winner
Was this a great shot? No, not really.
Did it go in? That’s all that matters, right?
The thing about this shot is that the Tar Heels were looking to trap defensively, which left the ‘Cats at an advantage in the half-court. If Monk passes to Derek Willis in the corner, he’s either going to get a wide-open 3-point attempt, or if Isaiah Hicks looked to close out, Bam Adebayo is completely open under the rim for an easy bucket.
But, this was Malik Monk’s day, and for him to just send Williams flying past him, followed by a pretty good look at the rim from deep was just a fun example of creating space for his shot; something he’s better than most at.
Pull-up jumpers off the dribble
One of Monk’s -- if not — his most bread-and-butter offensive move is shooting a pull-up jumper off one dribble in either direction. He’s comfortable shooting it, despite it being a difficult shot to really knock down consistently.
Joel Berry II is one of the better guards on the defensive end in the country, but if Monk ever gets to space on the floor where he can rise and fire, it’s bad news for the defense with his 6’6” frame. Berry never had a chance on this two-dribble pull-up and splash from Monk.
Here’s a look at the one-dribble pull-up over Berry II again that Monk loves.
That gave him 26 points.
In the first half.
It’s not Monk scoring, but it’s Monk having fun
The most exciting play of the game for Kentucky that didn’t involve the final two minutes was probably Isaiah Briscoe’s outlet pass to Monk that led to this lob jam from De’Aaron Fox, right?
“Dadgumit, he’s good.” -Roy Williams, probably after this shot
What even are you supposed to do if you’re Justin Jackson here?
Great defense, even more absurd offense from Monk.
It wasn’t just the eight 3-pointers
This make in the lane with the floater was pretty from Monk.
It’s not just Monk’s ability to make outside shots and throw down exciting dunks in transition. Monk can score inside the arc in a variety of ways, including using a teardrop floater over bigger defenders. Once again, with his good-sized frame as a two-guard, he becomes even more dangerous as a scorer if he scoring like this.
This was a great read by Monk, recognizing that Williams tried to funnel him into the lane and Tony Bradley, and then getting the floater to drop over him.
Don’t hurt ‘em, Malik!
This was just ... yo.
Berry II wanted no part of Monk in this transition push and the inside-out dribble to the cup was just not fair, and then the finish through contact finished the play off properly.
Interesting defense, UNC
At this point in the game, there’s 9:35 left in the game. Malik Monk has 36 points. Kentucky’s up by four.
How does the best player on the floor get this open?
UNC is in a 2-3 zone look. Monk curls around to the wing, leaving Luke Maye with a choice. Either he has to mark Wenyen Gabriel, who you can miss with his long arms calling for the ball in this set, and leave Monk open, which ... yeah, no.
He gets caught in the middle and with Monk shooting like he was on Saturday, you realize that maybe Kentucky can shoot teams out of the zone looks this season.
Malik Monk. 39 points. Speechless. pic.twitter.com/jg124M5dae— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 18, 2016
Crunch time was Monk’s time
The final three buckets Monk scored came within the final 3:23 of the game. Kentucky scored eight more points from this tough Monk jumper in the lane on.
Six of those eight points — the game-tying and go-ahead 3-pointers — came from Monk.
The first 3-pointer
Justin Jackson had just hit a triple to give UNC a 98-95 lead with 95 seconds left in the game.
When Monk got the ball on the wing, Williams was once again guarding him. Monk actually looked to drive (like Calipari wanted him to all night long), but then backed off to hit the first of his two ridiculous 3-pointers down the stretch.
44 at this point.
The second that broke the internet
Something got lost in the chaos that was the final two minutes of Kentucky-North Carolina on Saturday night: Justin Jackson (who scored 34 points) scored on a difficult layup plus a foul with about 44 seconds left to give Carolina the 100-98 advantage.
Jackson missed the free throw after, Maye knocked the ball out for a huge offensive rebound, but Joel Berry II missed a jumper that may have iced the game for the Tar Heels.
That kept the game at a two-point deficit for Kentucky, which set up this magic:
MALIK MONK.— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 18, 2016
Monk drained the go-ahead triple over Isaiah Hicks, who had four fouls at this point. You obviously don’t want to foul, so all Hicks could was hope to get a hand in Monk’s face. Hicks did do a good job of not flying past Monk on the pump fake, but in the end, it didn’t really matter.
Malik Monk took his place among the great all-time performances among those who have worn the Kentucky blue on Saturday night.
But, this was the greatest of the Calipari era.
It wasn’t just the points.
It was the magnitude of the game. It was the difficult shot-making. It was the smiles after every shot Monk made. It was the roars of the arena. It was the best college basketball game of the season and the game got the best performance from a player this year.
Kentucky needed a premier victory after the UCLA, and with just Louisville and Kansas left in the non-conference slate, there wasn’t much left for Kentucky to gain ground on the top programs in the country and their resumes.
Monk couldn’t have picked a better spot to put on a show that will live in the lore of Bluegrass basketball for a long time.