Well, we know the obvious: De’Aaron Fox was absolutely amazing against UCLA on Friday night in Kentucky’s 86-75 victory that vaulted them into another rematch with North Carolina on Sunday for a spot in the Final Four.
Fox dropped a new NCAA freshman record of 39 points on 13-of-20 shooting from the floor, along with making 13-of-15 from the free throw line and led the ‘Cats to their sixth Elite Eight in the last eight seasons.
“I think I scored like the first eight points of the game, and after that, I was like, you know, it's going to be a good night for me,” Fox said after the win. “I mean, I just attribute that to all my teammates.”
This Kentucky team couldn’t be more tightly-knit during the most important of the season and Fox is right. His teammates stepped up in a big way throughout the night and gave him the support he needed to outplay the much-hyped Lonzo Ball for the second time in two tries this season.
What put Kentucky over the top outside of Fox’s ability to get any shot he wanted (and make about all of them) on Friday? Let’s take a look at what Fox’s teammates did that has Kentucky one win away from their fifth Final Four appearance under John Calipari.
Like Frankenstein, Malik Monk is alllliiiiivvveeee
The only thing missing from Malik Monk’s post-game press conference appearance on Saturday morning was one of Michael Jordan’s most famous quotes.
Monk’s recent funk has been well-documented, but on Friday night, he played a perfect Robin to Fox’s Batman-like showing against the Bruins. In 32 minutes, Monk dropped 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting, including dropping four triples against the different defensive looks the Bruins showed at him and the ‘Cats.
Malik Monk's range is anywhere on the court. pic.twitter.com/2MHmRAexLD— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 25, 2017
No matter how deep it is, if you let a shooter like Monk step into 3-pointers like UCLA did on Friday night, he’s going to drain a few of them.
Dominique Hawkins retains his title as Mr. Reliable
Kentucky hit 10 3-pointers as a team on Friday night. Dominique Hawkins had three of those triples in four attempts for nine of his 11 points in the win.
Hawkins has been invaluable down the stretch of the year, hitting shots and playing tight defense against some of the better perimeter players for each team Kentucky has played during this 14-game winning streak that has them one win away from Phoenix.
One of the key moments of the game on Friday was right outside of the under-8 media timeout and Kentucky up 60-56 in the second half. Hawkins hit a contested triple from the wing to bump the lead back up to seven, which was followed by Kentucky scoring 10 of the next 15 points and their lead growing to 12.
Dominique Freaking Hawkins pic.twitter.com/FhacOWWkcL— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 25, 2017
“It means a lot to us [he and Derek Willis],” Hawkins said, via Kyle Tucker of SEC Country. “We know once we’re on the court, we’re able to make plays. Everybody tells us to be confident, and when you get the ball, shoot it.”
Willis struggled shooting the ball throughout the night, but he drained a triple on the possession right after Hawkins’ 3-pointer in that 10-5 run that basically put the game out of reach for the Bruins down the stretch.
The seniors just keep doing their jobs.
Derek Freaking Willis pic.twitter.com/jLCxDaPTVn— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 25, 2017
Bam Adebayo struggled, but he still made an impact
I probably know what you’re thinking.
“Bam Adebayo had two points! What are you talking about?”
Well, let me explain.
Adebayo had a really rough time on the blocks down in the post on Friday night. The Bruins did a great job defensively on coming off their men to help their bigs in the post against Adebayo, who had 18 points and 13 rebounds in the first meeting back in December.
Still, Adebayo had four rebounds and five assists (which I couldn’t believe was a real stat), but where his impact was seen was as Fox’s primary screener in the pick-and-roll.
De'Aaron Fox.— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 25, 2017
ALL. DAY. LONG. pic.twitter.com/sa2tiEyPhJ
It didn’t matter if it was Aaron Holiday (the defender who gets screened by Bam up above) or Lonzo Ball himself, UCLA couldn’t defend the pick-and-roll at all on Friday night and when you have a 6’10”, 260-pound screener, it makes life difficult for big men when their guards are getting wiped out of plays.
De'Aaron Fox caps off a fantastic 1st half with 15 points. pic.twitter.com/jShNZExDXx— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 25, 2017
The play above really summed up the night for UCLA defensively (other than the fact that their 3-2 zone attack just didn’t work because of Kentucky’s shooting). Fox threw a great hesitation move at Ball, who had to fight through an Adebayo screen and with Bam rolling to the basket, Fox faked a pass and then drained a nice floater for the bucket.
There’s still some work left in Memphis to do, but the ‘Cats are on the cusp
Kentucky slayed the dragon looming over them when the South Region was released on Selection Sunday. They faced a lot of questions coming into Friday night that got answered in an emphatic way.
They still have an old foe to conquer in a really tough (and really good) North Carolina team that Malik Monk took a flamethrower to back in December.
But, with their floor general looking like the best player left in the NCAA Tournament and virtually the entire rotation contributing in some way, don’t be surprised if you’re making travel plans for Phoenix on Sunday night.