The Volunteers came into Rupp Arena seeking a season sweep of the ‘Cats for the first time in 18 years. Fortunately for the Big Blue Nation, the Vols did not get to party like it was 1999.
Both teams started cold and very meh, at one point you could hear more sneakers squeaking than the announcers. However, the ‘Cats got real hot really quick and went on a devastating run that set the tone for the remainder of the game.
Kentucky ended the first half 10-18 from three-point range, and a sizzling 56% to go into the half with a 47-32 lead, lead by Malik Monk with 16 points and Derek Willis with 12 points (4/4 threes).
De’Aaron Fox continued the ‘Cats dominance as he went on a mini run of highlight plays to push the ‘Cats lead to nearly 20, setting the tone for the rest of the night.
The ‘Cats would roll on to an 83-58 win to avenge a bad loss from three weeks ago.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW...
This Game Was Won in the first 10 Minutes With Ball Movement and Confidence
Calipari made it clear on his talk show that if you did not play with confidence, you would be coming out. Well, they responded with confidence and a swagger that we had not seen in about six weeks.
John Calipari issues ultimatum to his team: “You either play with confidence or you’re coming out” https://t.co/OL0wAqZL06— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) February 14, 2017
Cal’s ‘Cats accommodated to the tune of 10-18 from the three point line and some spirited ball movement that saw everyone get involved. The ‘Cats barrage began with a Derek Willis rattled three and only built momentum from there.
Derek Willis heat check? You betcha. pic.twitter.com/L14ce29o6H— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 15, 2017
Malik Monk hits his second 3 of the half. pic.twitter.com/TRo0db4kyu— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 15, 2017
Mychal Mulder joins the 3 point party. pic.twitter.com/GdM4RdJgxi— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 15, 2017
Bam Adebayo cleans up the Briscoe spin cycle. pic.twitter.com/Wi8pphDUxH— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 15, 2017
It is amazing to see the potential of this team, there truly is no ceiling for this team as they can look like one of the best offensive teams in college basketball history. The problem is the pendulum swings too far the other way when it is off.
Could tonight be the turning point we are so used to for Calipari’s youngsters to start ‘getting it’, and turn into legit title contenders. Personally, I think it is 100% on the ‘Cats willingness to make the extra pass (extra good pass) and playing with their December swagger.
De’Aaron Fox IS This Team’s Difference Maker, Period.
It is no coincidence that a lot of our struggles started when De’Aaron Fox started struggling, and then his sickness only compounded the problems. Tonight looked to be Fox’s ‘welcome back’ game. He was sporting a fresh new man-bun hairdo and looked like the November to January Fox that was in the discussion for best PG in America.
The old De'Aaron Fox is back. pic.twitter.com/fVJcyJKHIP— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 15, 2017
On any championship team there is a guy on the team where if you take them away, there is simply no chance they win the title. It may not be the best player on the team or the most explosive either.
This year is a great example of that; You can take Malik Monk out of the lineup, and we are a lesser team, but we are still a good team that can make a run. Get the right person, or combination of people (Willis/Mulder) more clock and more confidence and the scoring can be made up.
I am not saying Willis/Mulder equal Monk, do not take it that way, please. Simply that his 20 points per game could/would be made up elsewhere on many nights.
However, in the case of De’Aaron Fox, there is no replacement nor is there a combo of replacements that can replicate his basketball IQ, swagger, and speed. The old saying is if you cut off the head of a snake, the body dies; Fox is this team’s head.
Could It Be? Does Malik Monk ‘get it’ now?
We all know Malik Monk can score, and he can score with a quickness. Anyone who halfway follows college basketball knows that Malik Monk is an electrifying scorer who can posterize anyone the moment he steps in the gym.
The problem is that Monk seemed to get comfortable with that role and regressed as a basketball player. While Monk is electric, it was turning into a situation where outside of the points segment of the box score; you might as well name him Mediocre Monk.
Coming into this game, Monk had gotten 1... ONE rebound in 103 minutes of play. That is two and a half games folks. I am 5’9" and 38 years old going on 50 and I could have gotten at least two rebounds in that time.
Tonight we saw the normal prolific ability to score from Mr. Monk, but guess what else we saw; we saw EIGHT rebounds and two assists. This should be the norm going forward, and this type of Monk, combined with Fox could be a championship contending team.
Bam’s Role Should be Clear
Yes, I know this is a 4th item to know in a column titled three things to know but what the heck, happy valentines day BBN!
Part of UK’s struggles, along with Fox’s sickness/struggles, was the decision by Calipari to absolutely life or death force feed the ball to Bam Adebayo. The problem is Bam is not to the level of an Anthony Davis, Demarcus Cousins, or Karl-Anthony Towns where the offense can run through him first.
It is not a knock on Bam; it is simply the truth.
I would LOVE to see Bam wrecking people down low and the offense going through him and then out to the perimeter but we are not made like that and Cal tried to force feed it. This resulted in players questioning their efforts and not playing with confidence.
Bam as a cleanup guy is exactly what this team needs. Kentucky has three guards with more skill than almost every other three guards they are going to face any given night. Giving those guys carte blanche is how this team dominatED and it is how they will have any chance at #9.
Lastly, how could I allow a Valentine’s Day to pass without highlighting the Big Blue Nation’s number 1 sweetheart who was in Rupp for the game, Kaylee Hartung!