By LARRY VAUGHT
I’ve seen some incredible scorers during my 42 years covering University of Kentucky basketball. But never have I seen one like Malik Monk.
The freshman guard exploded the second half Saturday in Rupp Arena with perhaps the best offensive half I have ever seen a UK player have.
He was 1-for-5 from the field in first half against Florida with five turnovers. In the 22-point loss at Florida he was 4-for-14. But in the second half he was dynamite. He had 19 points in the first 8:42 of the half and 24 points in the first 14:30.
Monk, who had 47 points against North Carolina earlier this season when he had 27 points in the second half, finished with 33 points — 30 in the second half — as UK beat Florida 76-66 to move into sole possession of first place in the SEC with two games remaining.
The Cats were without point guard DeAaron Fox (bruised knee) and the first half Bam Adebayo did his best to carry UK with six points and 11 rebounds in what ended up a 28-28 tie after UK fell behind 8-0 to start the game.
But the second half belonged to Monk. Kentucky got solid play from Derek Willis and Adebayo ended up with a double-double. Still, Monk was the star of stars with his fourth 30-point game of the season.
He hit 3-pointers under pressure. He drove and scored. He drove and bunk. He hit mid-range jumpers. He got to the foul line. He also did not have a turnover the second half.
Monk finished the game 9-for-18 (5-for-7 on 3-pointers) from the field and 10-for-11 (he hit his final 10) at the foul line. He even found a way to dish out five assists, mainly to Adebayo for dunks.
“When he gets on a spurt like that, he’s amazing,” Adebayo said.
Monk was as engaged as any game this season. He talked on the court. He got on the floor for loose balls. He went to the boards and even though he had just three rebounds, he was so much more active inside than normal.
This likely was his next to last game in Rupp Arena but he certainly made it one to remember and kept UK in position to win the SEC title and perhaps become a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said he didn’t tell Monk anything special at halftime other than get to the basket more.
“What happened to Malik, we were on him to drive, to get fouled. Don’t drive to release and throw some crazy thing, just try to get fouled. That’s why I grabbed him. We have been doing it all year and it’s harder to play that way and Florida’s an obviously a highly ranked team. They’re tough physically, they had won nine in a row, they were confident,” Calipari said.
“You’re not going to beat them shooting 3’sor fadeaways, you got to attack. If you attack, you’re going to get beat up a little bit, you’re going to get grabbed a little bit, you’re going to get hip checked some. I was really — we didn’t want to try to beat them shooting threes and I said it before the game. I said, if you think you’re going to beat these guys by shooting threes, you will not. You got to get to the glass, you got to get to the foul line, it’s how you got to play.”