By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — What will Kentucky do when Malik Monk has an off game?
That’s been a constant source of speculation. Well, Kentucky fans found out Saturday night as Monk had just two points in the first half, went over 20 minutes without scoring and finished with 12 points — well below his average — and failed to hit a 3-pointer in a game for the first time this season. Yet Kentucky still throttled Arkansas 97-71 thanks to what Monk’s teammates did.
Start with De’Aaron Fox. He had a career-high 27 points on 10-for-16 shooting along with six rebounds and six assists.
Throw in 15 points for Derek Willis, who hit his first five shots, and five rebounds.
“Willis ,the guy keeps haunting us. He did it last year. I’ve watched games and he don’t shoot like that, but he did,” said Arkansas coach Mike Anderson. “I thought Fox did a great job, too.”
Oh yeah, Isaiah Briscoe had 15 points and eight rebounds. Plus Bam Adebayo threw in 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
“I thought Briscoe was much better in the second half,” Anderson said. “If you pay too much attention to Monk, other guys go off. I thought their effort going down the stretch was much better than ours was.”
The Cats dominated the second half after leading just 41-38 at halftime thanks to a 12-0 run that wiped out an Arkansas lead. Kentucky took over inside the second half where it finished with 46 points in the paint and won the rebounding 43-30. Kentucky also finished the game shooting 53 percent overall despite a slow start from the field.
“For a half, it was a tremendous effort by our guys. Kentucky is outstanding team. Cal has one of his more talented teams here. We didn’t do our part in the second half. The continued to do what they do,” Anderson said.
What seemed to spark the Cats was the chippy play that started when Isaiah Briscoe appeared to get stepped on after drawing a charge. There were several other incidents during the game, including one where Monk seemed to get hit below the waist, that brought both the Rupp Arena crowd and the UK players to live.
Kentucky scored at a pace of 1.311 points per possession and got 24 fast break points, including one play where Adebayo led the break and lobbed to Monk for a score.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson vowed his team would run with Kentucky — and it did. But the Razorbacks simply could not continue to match the speed or athleticism of UK even with Monk, an Arkansas native, having an off game by his standards.
“They shot 40 free throws. You shoot 40, and you are going to win a lot of games,” Anderson said.