Without starting point guard De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky freshmen Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo stepped up in a major way, as the Wildcats defeated Florida 76-66 Saturday at Rupp Arena.
It was probably Kentucky’s most impressive victory of the season considering the circumstances. Florida had embarrassed Kentucky the last time the two teams met this season in Gainesville, and without yesterday’s win, Kentucky would have a very slim chance at claiming at least a share of the SEC regular season title.
After scoring just three points in the first half, Monk went off for 30 in the second half in one of the greatest performances Rupp Arena has ever seen. Adebayo captured 15 rebounds for the second straight game, to add to his 18 points.
Cats fans were all smiles in Lexington following the game and, being out and about last night, you get the sense that March is just around the corner, and that the Big Blue Nation is starting to get that old Final Four feeling. Too early? Time will tell. Here’s a look at what they’re saying...
The streak is over. The curse is broken. https://t.co/dggsz2GFeP— TJ Beisner (@tjbeisner) February 25, 2017
This was in reference to Florida’s KeVaughn Allen and Monk being high school rivals in Arkansas, where Allen’s team defeated Monk’s each time the two faced off. Saturday marked the first time Monk’s squad got the best of Allen’s.
Malik Monk put on one of the great shows ever at Rupp. 30 points in the second half. 33 for the game. UK tops Florida 76-66— alan cutler (@cutler18) February 25, 2017
Couldn’t have said it any better.
HUGE win for Kentucky. With Fox out, Monk stepped up and the team refused to lose. pic.twitter.com/ZRolHOfQq4— Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) February 25, 2017
Meme game strong.
Is that the turning point game for Kentucky?— Joe Mussatto (@joe_mussatto) February 25, 2017
I sure hope so. Have to maintain their focus on these last two SEC regular season games and take care of business. I like this team and it appears that they are beginning to peak at the right time.
Cats hold Gators to 37% FG, dominate glass 48-30.— Jeff Drummond (@JDrumUK) February 25, 2017
The rebound margin was the difference in this game.
For my money, UK's best win of the year considering stakes. https://t.co/lC6eQWuRYq— Jon Hale (@JonHale_CJ) February 25, 2017
The North Carolina win was big, but UK needed this game to give them hope at a higher seed in the SEC Tournament. And their starting point guard was out. Massive victory.
Bam Adebayo is beginning to look like @KarlTowns did in the final weeks of his 2014-15 season. Today, 18 pts and 15 rebounds. A man's game.— Oscar Combs (@wildcatnews) February 25, 2017
Monk’s 30 pts in one half, most in Calipari era. He and Jamal Murray had 27 in previous games.— Darrell Bird (@DarrellBird) February 25, 2017
Considering all the great players Cal has had, that’s pretty impressive.
Florida outrebounded Kentucky 56-29 in Gainesville. Today, UK held a 48-30 advantage on the glass.— Chris Fisher (@ChrisFisher247) February 25, 2017
What a turnaround. Briscoe pulled down eight boards and Willis had nine.
Dominique Hawkins didn’t start the game but he did lead Kentucky in minutes played with 37.— Curtis Burch (@curtisburch) February 25, 2017
While Hawkins only had three points, his presence was felt. The senior guard managed to get six rebounds and four assists with only one turnover.
I’ve never seen Cal smile like that before.
Malik Monk makes Kentucky freshman history. pic.twitter.com/waEYWWj0H8— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 25, 2017
Is Malik Monk that good or are his teammates that reliant on him to score? No other Cal player has done what Monk has done because his other teams haven’t necessarily had to rely on one guy for that much scoring.
Calipari says Bam has gotten in better shape and changed his mentality, which helps him rebound.— KSTV (@KSTV_Sports) February 25, 2017
Bam Adebayo, on postgame radio show: "It's starting to click now. Hopefully we get to see where this is going to go."— Herald-Leader Sports (@KentuckySports) February 25, 2017
Pretty open ended statement. Hopefully Bam helps take us where we want to go ;)
Calipari: "I like how we played a man down."— KSTV (@KSTV_Sports) February 25, 2017
Says he liked Briscoe at the point and Hawkins was "outstanding."
Hawkins gives you so much effort and great defense. Always great to see a Kentucky boy play his way into the rotation.
Cal says when UK had its rough start, Rupp Arena didn't boo. It cheered and encouraged. "Classy fans," Coach Cal says of #BBN.— CoachCal.com (@CoachCalDotCom) February 25, 2017
Stay classy, Lexington.
Mike White on Malik Monk: "He took the game over. He was amazing. It was probably the best performance against us."— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_AJC) February 25, 2017
That second half performance had to be one of the best by any player in college basketball this year. Bold?
Malik Monk on why Bam is rebounding more: "Cal's been making us run when he doesn't rebound. We don't like running."— TJ Beisner (@tjbeisner) February 25, 2017
Better late than never. Hopefully they keep it up.
The Herald-Leader’s Mark Story reported on Florida Coach White’s comments and how Bam stepped it up:
“It could just be Bam Adebayo is three weeks older than he was,” White said.
After having only three double-digit rebounding games in Kentucky’s first 25 contests, Adebayo has three in UK’s last four games — and had eight in the other contest (Georgia).
Adebayo says his improved activity around the glass owes much to his weight loss. UK assistant Kenny Payne has had much to do with creating the shrinking Bam, Adebayo said, due to a regimen of pre-practice conditioning drills.
“KP running us pre-practice, (the weight) just fell off,” Adebayo said. “Then I started eating right, eating healthier. It’s been good for me.”
Monk said Kentucky Coach John Calipari deserves some credit for Adebayo’s surging production on the glass, too.
After pleading with UK’s front court players early in the season to rebound with both hands, Monk said Calipari started having the whole Wildcats team run anytime Adebayo failed to do that in practice.
So, Bam, has peer pressure from teammates not wanting extra running created a more motivated, two-handed rebounder?
“That’s been a good factor for us,” Adebayo said, flashing a big smile. “I might just slip up (and rebound with one hand) ‘accidentally’ to help everybody get in shape.”
The Courier-Journal’s Fletcher Page gave his take on trying to figure this Kentucky team out:
Is Kentucky the team that dominated Tennessee or the team that barely won at Missouri? Is Kentucky the first 13 minutes of the Florida win or the last 13 minutes of the Florida win?
The Gators led by eight before those last 13 minutes, and Kentucky won by 10.
"Wow, if they play that way, they're going to be fine," Calipari said of his team. "Now can we play? Can that be us?"
Crazy, but yeah, Calipari asked himself out loud the same question I just wrote. Fox will return sooner than later and Monk has shown us what he's capable of, scoring 33 points one game after reaching only 11. Adebayo has back-to-back 15-rebound performances and, hey, this sounds like a Final Four contender again.
You start typing out those stats and you forget that Kansas beat Kentucky. UCLA beat Kentucky. Louisville beat Kentucky. Florida beat Kentucky. But there's the North Carolina win and now this Florida performance is the most recent offering of information.
"If we're this team, I like what I'm seeing," Calipari said.
Cal said it. We're all still trying to figure Kentucky out.
The excitement continues Tuesday for Senior Night at Rupp, when the Cats will face off against a hot Vanderbilt team that absolutely dismantled Mississippi State en route to its fourth consecutive win. Tip off against the Commodores is set for 9 p.m. Eastern.