Malik Monk delivered a super duper performance in leading Kentucky to a 103-100 victory over North Carolina Saturday night in Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena.
Monk’s 47 points, including a game-winning three with 19 seconds left, were enough to set the all-time freshman single-game scoring record at Kentucky, previously held by Jamal Murray and Terrence Jones at 35.
In terms of a resume builder, this was a huge win for Kentucky in terms of seeding in March. In terms of the 2017 NBA Draft, Malik Monk’s stock skyrocketed with his superb performance on a massive stage.
Here’s a look at what they’re saying:
Kentucky 103, UNC 100— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) December 18, 2016
Before today, the last top-10 matchup in which both teams scored 100+ in regulation: UNLV-Arkansas 1 vs 2 in 1991. pic.twitter.com/hJ1E1CYN1k
I mean that was easily the most exciting game of the season thus far. No question.
Ice in the veins. And that was just the 11th game of his career.
Fox: "When someone's hot like that you keep feeding him the ball. ... He had a heckuva game."— CoachCal.com (@CoachCalDotCom) December 18, 2016
When you have as much talent on one team as Kentucky does, it’s awesome to see how they sacrifice for the good of the team.
A total of 203 points.— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) December 18, 2016
Both teams shot better than 50 percent.
Just an incredible display.
How many times can you say it? Not enough.
Look, I'm trying not to overreact, but I think Malik Monk is the best guard Calipari has brought to UK— Alex Valentine (@alexvalentine33) December 18, 2016
Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox combined for 71 points, 12 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals and just 4 turnovers in 71 minutes.— TheCatsPause247 (@TheCatsPause247) December 18, 2016
Best backcourt in the country. I think we had the best backcourt in the country last season with Murray and Ulis, too. And we’re not even talking about Isaiah Briscoe, who has been a solid contributor to both, although not necessarily a featured piece in either.
Cal on Monk: "Not only did he make a lot of baskets, he made daggers."— Jerry Tipton (@JerryTipton) December 18, 2016
When you’re shooting like that in that big of a game, daggers is the perfect way to describe it.
From our broadcast: Monk's 47 points is tied with Dan Issel (1970 vs. Alabama) for the sixth best single game performance in program history— UK Sports Network (@UKSportsNetwork) December 18, 2016
I’m not going to quit reiterating how special a performance that was. Monk is now up there with some Kentucky greats. And still no ceiling in sight.
Calipari is reminded he said this team could be one of his best defensively. "What was I smoking back then?"— Alex Forkner (@AlexForknerTCP) December 18, 2016
We were all saying the same thing, thinking this was an excellent defensive team. But now the Cats have given up a combined total of 200 points in its last two games against ranked opponents. Willis and Gabriel have to step it up on the defensive end.
I just love it when everyone’s talking about the Cats, especially former Cats.
Congrats UK them two young boys can go !!— John Wall (@JohnWall) December 18, 2016
IT'S MALIK MONK'S WORLD AND WE'RE ALL LIVING IN IT— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 18, 2016
Retweet x 100.
Wow. Malik Monk. Damn.— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) December 18, 2016
He’s the real deal, folks.
Oh my God, Monk. Down two and BANG. pic.twitter.com/n4BFZ7fOfb— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_AJC) December 18, 2016
Calipari said if you've never watched basketball and you watched that game, you'd probably say "wow I like basketball."— Lee K. Howard (@HowardWKYT) December 18, 2016
Maybe the best regular season game we’ll see in the 2016-17 season.
I'm putting it in the public record. I don't want the slideshow of personal photos at my funeral. I want this UK-UNC game played instead.— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 18, 2016
Here’s SEC Country’s Kyle Tucker’s account of how Saturday’s game went down:
“I was in the flow,” Monk said, “so I wasn’t nervous at all.”
In fact, he said it felt like a pick-up game as he scored the second-most points against North Carolina in that program’s rich history. Only Duke’s Dick Groat – with 48 points in 1952 – put more on the Tar Heels. Monk’s 47 are the most by a Kentucky player in the Calipari era (2009-10 to present) and sixth-most ever by a Wildcat, tying the great Dan Issel.
“When someone’s hot like that, you just keep giving him the ball,” said freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox, who had 24 points and 10 assists in the win. “So I’m looking at Cal – he wanted to take him out – he had six in a row already and he scored again when I was sitting down at the scorer’s table. I was like, ‘You all still want me to take him out?’ And they changed it.”
You see, Calipari is doing something with Monk we’ve rarely seen from the coach: telling teammates to give him the ball and, essentially, get the hell out of the way. Monk’s 28 shots Saturday (of which he hit 18) weren’t the product of a cocky McDonald’s All-American hijacking the game. Calipari doesn’t stand for that.
No, in this case, he wanted Monk to keep firing. He demanded it. And that’s an order the electric freshman will always follow.
“We put two or three things in for him, not only for this game (but) for the season, where if he doesn’t get the ball for a couple, three trips down, then we’re running something that they have to throw him the ball,” Calipari said. Why, when he’s done that so rarely in the past, even as a parade of NBA lottery picks passed through his program? “He deserves our attention.”
Although the Cats definitely improved their resume, CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander says it’s still too soon to pencil them in as a 1-seed:
And so now Kentucky can formally enter the 1-seed conversation alongside the teams with the best NCAA Tournament resumes so far. We're more than a month into the season, and I'm now posting weekly updates on the best dossiers in the sport. Last week, Kentucky didn't clear the bar.
As of just a few days ago, I wrote this: Kentucky will crack the top five in our next edition with a win over UNC on Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic and a win at Louisville next Wednesday. Split the games? Then it's going to be interesting. UK is just 1-1 vs. top-50 competition, and the one win came against a shorthanded Michigan State team. These next two games will go a long way toward UK establishing its profile nationally. MSU, Valpo and Arizona State are Kentucky's three best wins. It needs these next two in a big way in order to help land a big seed down the road, because the SEC will not be overflowing with opportunities to bolster the resume.
All of that remains true, only now Kentucky has two wins against teams ranked in the KenPom top 50 to go with a 10-1 record and a lone loss -- at home -- to undefeated UCLA. One game can change a lot when your sample size is a dozen or few.
But while the UNC win is very good, when you compare Kentucky's resume to the likes of Baylor, UCLA, Villanova and Gonzaga (the four teams I'd have as 1 seeds right now), Kentucky doesn't have a claim to that table yet. The Wildcats are in the mix for a No. 2, as they now have the advantage over UNC, not to mention Indiana, which is a two-loss team that fell to Butler on Saturday.
Here's how to map it out. Kentucky is right there with Butler (10-1), Kansas (10-1), Louisville (10-1) and Creighton (11-0) for the 2 line. Right now, I'd rank all those teams ahead of UK, with Kentucky being the best No. 3 seed option. Don't buy it? Creighton's still undefeated (and still underrated), and that should count for something. Plus, all those teams except Kansas have road wins (Kentucky doesn't; UNC was neutral court), and Kansas' best win is Duke, which you can claim is a better win than this North Carolina victory.
Looking ahead to Wednesday’s matchup against Louisville, the Lexington Herald-Leader’s John Clay says the Cards will provide the Wildcats with yet another challenge they’ve yet to see this year:
According to Ken Pomeroy, college basketball’s go-to guy for advanced statistics, Louisville leads the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing just 87.7 points per 100 possessions. (Kentucky is sixth at 92.1 points per 100 possessions.)
The Cardinals held Wichita State to 17 first-half points during a 62-52 victory over the Shockers in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis. They held Purdue to 19 first-half points in a 71-64 win over the visiting Boilermakers in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge.
Contrast that to Saturday in Las Vegas when Kentucky led North Carolina 56-51 after the first 20 minutes, the first time since the 2004 NCAA Tournament that the Cats and their opponent scored at least 50 points by halftime. (Tubby Smith’s Cats led Florida A&M 60-52 at the half.)
When Kentucky walked off the floor with a 103-100 victory, it was the first time in 52 games that North Carolina hit the century mark and still lost.
Meanwhile, at Louisville, the days of a Pitino team pressing full-court to push the pace and throw up three-pointers are long gone. The U of L coach talked in the preseason of returning to a faster pace, but that hasn’t happened. Louisville is averaging 78.5 points per game. The Cards are 32nd in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to Pomeroy.
On the flip side, the Cards are giving up just 59.4 points per game. In the Bahamas, Louisville held all three of its opponents to fewer than 70 points. Only Grand Canyon (a 79-70 loser to U of L) and Texas Southern (102-71 loser) have scored 70 points or more.