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For Kentucky to make Final Four run, De’Aaron Fox has to be “the guy”

John Calipari is seen as a “point guard whisperer”. He needs his floor general at his best down the stretch.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Florida
De’Aaron Fox has to be the catalyst for Kentucky down the stretch.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Thankfully for both players and Kentucky’s chances of making yet another Final Four run, the recent car accident that Bam Adebayo and De’Aaron Fox wasn’t a serious matter.

A serious matter on Fox and Kentucky’s hands is their recent stretch of games. After winning 17 of their first 19 games, the Wildcats have lost three of their last six games and have been in a funk of sorts.

One of the many factors in Kentucky’s issues as of late has been the play and health of Fox. During the Jan. 21 game against South Carolina, Fox rolled his ankle and missed the entire second half of the 85-69 victory over the Gamecocks.

He dropped in 17 points and four assists in the Wildcats’ first conference loss to Tennessee a few nights later, but outside of a what-should’ve-been-a-blowout victory over LSU on Feb. 7, Fox hasn’t been the speedster and dynamic player we saw in the first portion of the season.

Sure, there’s been health issues (the ankle, being sick), but the ‘Cats need Fox not just for the final six games of the regular season, but for a potential run to another Final Four — the fifth under John Calipari since he took over in Lexington — Big Blue needs their floor general controlling the action.

Even in the five losses, Fox did his part, which is good

In Kentucky’s five losses to UCLA, Louisville, Tennessee, Kansas and Florida, Fox hasn’t been the issue. He’s averaged 17.4 points, 1.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists in those five games on 41.4 percent shooting, which aren’t bad numbers.

A large part in why his other per-game digits are lower than the 4.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists he’s averaging on the season is because Kentucky has struggled to get stops and rebounds as a whole throughout the season, including in those five losses.

Fox was the best player on the floor for much of the afternoon against fellow top-10 draft prospect Lonzo Ball and the same could be said for when the ‘Cats lost the in-state showdown to Louisville in December.

The numbers aren’t stellar when Kentucky has fallen like they are in the victories this year, but he’s still contributing.

(Related note: Fox turned the ball over three times a game in his last five performances. From Dec. 7 to Jan. 21, Fox only turned the ball over 1.8 times per contest.)

He doesn’t need to take many with his speed, but Fox has to start making some outside shots

De’Aaron Fox has taken 1.9 3-pointers per game this season.

That’s actually not a bad thing, being that with his speed, he can get past just about anyone in the country at any given moment.

The issue is that he’s 8-for-46 on the year. That’s 17.4 percent, which is ... well, bad.

It’s no secret that Calipari-coached Kentucky teams have struggled with spacing in the half-court during his time in Lexington. Teams play zone and collapse on penetration, knowing that the ‘Cats don’t have too many options to drain outside shots.

This is where De’Aaron Fox (and frankly, everyone that has shot from the outside on the roster) comes in. When you make outside shots, teams can’t sit in a zone look and look to stop the the lifeblood of Calipari’s offensive system: putting the ball on the deck and driving.

For a conference title sweep and a deep tournament run to happen, Fox has to make the outside shots he’s given. Teams know he’s not much of a threat from beyond the arc. They’ll sit on his penetration and defend the drives.

Take the first possesion of the LSU game for example.

Wenyen Gabriel set a pindown screen for Malik Monk, who caught a pass from Fox. Monk drove baseline as Gabriel popped out, trying to drag his man with him to give Monk a lane for an easy bucket. Gabriel’s man stayed on the baseline to cut Monk’s drive off, so Monk kicked back to Gabriel.

This part is where things are important. Fox’s man leaves him up top, giving Fox plenty of space of Gabriel swings the ball back (which he did). Fox got the pass, reset his feet and drained the triple with a less-than-solid hand in his face.

When you keep defenses honest and force them to play man-to-man defense by hitting outside shots, stuff like this can happen:

Kentucky goes as far as Fox takes them

When your point guard plays well in March, you have a chance to make a deep run. Look at every title-winning team dating back to Connecticut in 2011 with first-time All-Star (this season) Kemba Walker. Each of those teams had stellar performances in the Big Dance.

Three of the last six Most Outstanding Player award-winners have been point guards (and you could make a case that number should be higher). Kentucky’s got a few tweaks to make in this latest “reboot”, along with Isaiah Briscoe being the heart and soul of this roster.

But, any title aspirations start with Fox.