Fox plays the role of closer for UK in win over Alabama


Freshman guard De’Aaron Fox (0) is fouled during the semifinal game of the SEC Tournament against the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday, March 11, 2017 in Nashville, Ky. Kentucky won the game 79-74.

Anthony Crawford

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With under three minutes left in the game and the shot-clock winding down, UK freshman De’Aaron Fox had the play to sum up the game.

After the team’s offense had been denied to start the possession, he decided to take matters into his own hands and followed through by dropping a floater to put the Cats up 69-63 in contest they would eventually go on to win 79-74.

UK had been in a battle up to that point with Alabama in the SEC Tournament Semifinals and although UK led on the scoreboard the box score spoke more clearly to how the game should have been playing out.

UK had been bothered by the physical play of the Crimson Tide and it showed as the Cats were outscored in the paint, out-rebounded and had trouble converting at the free throw line. All that weighed against UK, but all that mattered was the stretch Fox had to end the game, in which he scored 14 of UK’s last 21 points and ended up finished with a new career-high of 28 points. 

“Sometimes we call a play down the stretch and if it works, we keep going to it. I just kept making plays and they kept putting the ball in my hands,” Fox said following the win. “When I know the Coach is trusting me and my teammates are trusting me, keep attacking, doing what you’re doing. All I got to do is just make the play.”

Fox was able to undue all the mistakes UK made in trying to stay in front of Alabama, becoming the most recent player for UK to take up the role of being the team’s closer in a close game.

This type of game comes right after a game where UK’s defense played well enough to levitate the need for this type of clutch play down the stretch. But against against Alabama Saturday the same Cats team failed to consistently close out good defensive possessions with rebounds and committed some of the bad fouls that allow teams to hang around, like John Calipari mentioned in his Friday press conference following the win over Georgia. 

So instead UK was forced to fall back on the play of Fox and he delivered.

Even though he continued his recent uptick in his outside shooting, going 1-for-2 from deep against the Tide, down the stretch he rightfully relied more on his driving abilities.

Fox’s blazing speed showed on his way to the rim on multiple occasions and he also had one of his better days finishing as he tallied a few and-ones on those drives and finished 8-for-12 from the field. Also, his four misses at the free throw line can easily be overlooked because of the frequency he was there — he finished 11-for-15 at the charity stripe — and he also was the Cats second leading rebounder with five boards.

Overall, Fox looked closer to his early-season self, when he was a more confident scorer because of his ability to get to the rim. This performance is also great in that it shows UK has another player that can dominate down the stretch if need be, even though the team at its best should have to rely on a closer.

“We are still just trying to gel together. This is still frankly a new team; we’ve been together since August,” Fox said. “Sometimes we don’t really have that go-to player down the stretch. We’ve gone to a plethora of different people. When Bam (Adebayo) has it going we keep giving him the ball. When Malik (Monk) has it going, we keep giving him the ball. And actually, last time we played against Alabama it was it was Isaiah (Briscoe).”