After losing two close games to Tennessee and Kansas, the Kentucky Wildcats returned to Rupp Arena’s hardwood Tuesday night to get back in the win column.
Taking on the Georgia Bulldogs, the Wildcats were a 15.5 point favorite to win without star point guard De’Aaron Fox.
“We knew he (Fox) wasn’t going to play, but the game plan was still the same,” said Malik Monk after the win. “We planned to play the way we played with or without him and fortunately we were able to execute.”
After a 19-5 start by Georgia, Kentucky rallied to force overtime and win the game 90-81. Monk continued his National Player of the Year campaign with 37 points and three rebounds and three blocks as he came up big in the clutch time and time again.
“I swear, when it gets down to the guts of the game and he has that look in his eye, he says, ‘Yo Zay,, come on bro, get me the ball, get me open’,” said Isaiah Briscoe. “As the point guard, as the leader. I want him to score because I know he’s good for it towards the end of the game. I just kept finding him and he caught fire.”
Without Fox, the pace of the game was majorly turned against the Wildcats. They shot 9-31 in the first half and gave up 19 points in the first six minutes.
“Our energy was just low,” said Monk of UK’s slow start. “We just had to bring it out and I think that happened when there were eight minutes left and we started making runs and basically started executing.”
However, the crowd sparked a defensive stand as Kentucky held Georgia to just 10 points the rest of the first half to head into the locker room tied at 29.
Though mounting a major hot streak from Malik Monk that included five consecutive threes, Kentucky’s flawed defensive efforts out of halftime never allowed them to pull away in the second half.
Down two points with eight second left, head coach John Calipari drew up another clutch play for Malik Monk. With Isaiah Briscoe inbounding the ball, they ran a screen set by Bam Adebayo to free up Malik Monk for the left wing two-point jump shot.
As he has all year, Monk got open and canned the shot to tie the game at 76. Then after a defensive stand just seconds later, senior guard Dominique Hawkins rimmed out a half court heave to avoid overtime.
Kentucky forced Georgia into a turnover on the first possession of overtime and never looked back. Winning the game 90-81, the Fox-less Wildcats were lead by starting back court Briscoe and Monk.
Briscoe tallied 23 points (11 from the FT line) and 11 rebounds with eight assists. Monk’s 37 points came efficiently, shooting 7-11 from three point land and 10-12 from the FT line.
His veteran leadership and calming influence in the second half and OT helped the young Cats escape with a much-needed win.
“When things get tight, everybody looks at me as the leader,” said Briscoe. “I kept a positive attitude, and let everyone else around me know that we’re still in this game, it’s early. Basketball is a game of runs and everyone is going to go on a run. We weren’t expecting the 12-0 start, but we kept fighting and ended up winning in overtime.”
Bam Adebayo, who only played five minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, played the final 13:48 with four fouls. He scored 10 points, had four rebounds, a block and a steal during that span.
“Just confidence and believing in myself. My teammates believed in me, and I knocked down some big free throws,” said Bam of his late-game performance. “It just proves we’ve got to fight and that we’re not backing out from anybody.”
The win, without Fox on the court, definitely gives Big Blue Nation some confidence heading forward. The Wildcats will head to SEC rival and 25th ranked Florida on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 8:15 EST.