De’Aaron Fox had nine points in the first half on Saturday afternoon against Alabama, but the overall perception of the half for he and Kentucky was that it wasn’t good, despite a one-point lead. Fox had five turnovers in the first 20 minutes and wasn’t taking care of the basketball.
Then, in the second half, Fox exploded for 19 points (14 in the final 6:32 of the game) and finished with 28 points as he and the Wildcats advanced to their third straight SEC Tournament title game with a 79-74 victory over the Crimson Tide.
On top of his Jay-Z-esque takeover of the game that gave the ‘Cats their 10th straight victory, Fox had zero turnovers in the final 20 minutes against the Crimson Tide.
“I was just able to get a rhythm,” Fox told reporters after the contest, while sitting on Bam Adebayo’s towel and drawing some sarcastic ire from the big man.
“My teammates had confidence in me. Sometimes, if we run a play and if it works, Coach [Calipari] tries to keep going back to the same thing. Not the exact same play, but have the same persons in it. I was just able to make plays.”
That “thing” Fox was mentioning in his answer was simple: get him the basketball and let him take control of the offense for Kentucky (with some help from the aforementioned Adebayo).
Whether it was Fox playing off a screen from Adebayo or getting to the rim by himself, Fox took control of the game late for Kentucky and put the team and the entire Big Blue Nation on his back down the stretch of Saturday’s win.
Let’s take a glance at the final 6:32 of Saturday’s win and how Fox was just too much for the Tide late.
Kentucky was clinging to a one-point lead with one more media timeout coming in this drive to the rim by Fox. Alabama dropped into the 2-3 zone look that Kentucky has seen a lot this size with their athletes, so Fox looked to attack with Adebayo helping free him up to operate.
Adebayo runs out to screen Fox’s man, but Fox does a good job of selling that he’s going to the middle of the floor to use Adebayo’s screen and free himself up for a one-on-one drive with he and Adebayo’s man in the lane. Fox does a good job of avoiding the head-on contact and gets the blocking call (where he split a pair of free throws).
Fox was fouled on the possession for Kentucky right before the one you see above (and once again split a pair of freebies at the line), which kept the Kentucky lead at just two.
Although it was a poor attempt at an entry pass, Fox does a great job of sagging off, using his long arms and stealing the pass to start a fast break that leads to him once again going to the free throw line. (He also took a beating in this game at the rim, along with a couple slips in the lane early.)
This was just special from Fox with the shot clock winding down and Kentucky still clinging to a two-point advantage. Derek Willis runs out to set a quick drag screen for Fox, who uses it, but what he does next makes this great.
Not only does he make a quick decision to cross it back over to his dominant left hand on Willis’ man, he adjusts his body in the air flawlessly and gets a friendly whistle (plus the bucket) for a huge three-point play to get the ‘Cats some breathing room.
This is a version of a play you’d see plenty of if you watched the full season’s worth of tape on De’Aaron Fox this year. Bam Adebayo once again comes out to set Fox a screen, and then quickly flips himself to set another screen on Fox’s man to give his point guard just enough space to get a clear look at the rim from the nail to drain a pull-up jumper that Fox is comfortable shooting to give the ‘Cats a six-point lead.
Kentucky needed some free throws late (including a couple from Fox himself), but this play right here was basically the final dagger in the Tide’s chances for the upset.
Fox comes to get the ball at the top of the key and shortly after, another Adebayo screen follows. This screen helped decide the game, because Fox’s man rolls with Adebayo, leaving a big to guard Fox one-on-one on the perimeter.
Advantage: Kentucky. (Fox even signals for Adebayo to stay down low because of the mismatch.)
Fox makes a fantastic play and gets the shot to go off the window to basically ice the game. As a wise man once said, “ONIONS!”
In the final 6:32 on Saturday afternoon, De’Aaron Fox scored half of his game-high 28 points (eight of those came at the line in 11 (!) attempts).
As we saw on Friday against Georgia, Isaiah Briscoe is the glue and the pulse of the young ‘Cats. Malik Monk found a bit of a groove and bounced back on Saturday while looking like the star he’s been all season long at times.
But, for Kentucky to win their third straight SEC Tournament title on Sunday and to find themselves in Phoenix in a few weeks, De’Aaron Fox not only has to be a good guy ... he has to be the guy for Kentucky to make their expected run in the NCAA Tournament.