Monk is UK’s ace in the hole for the post season

Photo by Carter Gosset. || Staff

Anthony Crawford

With the regular season behind No. 8 UK men’s basketball and the team’s thoughts turning to the postseason, most of the usual questions and concerns will start to rise up soon.

UK teams in the past have always shared worries over what will happen in the Big Dance if they face a team that packs in the paint and forces UK to shoot from deep to win a game, or just what happens if the Cats’ jumpers betray them altogether. 

Those are both legitimate concerns for UK and many other teams, but the Cats are different this season in that they have a trump card — a trick up their sleeve that every team in the country will have trouble matching. That ace in the hole for UK is scoring sensation Malik Monk.

The numbers speak for themselves when looking at the freshman from Lepanto, Arkansas.

Monk’s 21.2 points per game tops the SEC and is good enough for second among the nation’s freshmen. It also is impressive when considering the fact that it’s the highest scoring average for any John Calipari-coached player.

“He has become an efficient scorer, which is what I hoped he’d become,” Calipari said during the SEC Teleconference Monday.  “Yet he can score in bunches, and when he gets in a zone you just gotta let him go and put him in spaces where he can get shots off.”

Monk has an ability to get hot in a hurry and fans have been able to see it in all its glory many times this season. The instance that stands out is the 47-point outing Monk had in Las Vegas against North Carolina.

The shots that Monk took and somehow made were unbelievable in the contest between the blue-bloods. Whether he was fading away, stepping back or hitting shots with hands in his face, UK needed everything it got from Monk, including two big threes in the final two minutes to tie the game and then give UK the lead for good in the 103-100 win over the Tar Heels.

In hindsight, the scoring out-burst from Monk hides the fact that UK, in its own right, allowed a 34-point performance from UNC’s Justin Jackson and needed an otherworldly performance from Monk to pull out the win.

This was just the first example of Monk shooting his way to a UK victory. Another example was the Cats’ overtime win over the Georgia Bulldogs on January 31, in which Monk exploded for 37 points and hit the shot to tie the game at the end of regulation.

This game showed that Monk didn’t even need a full game to take over, as he scored 31 of his points in the second half and overtime period. And Monk once again showed he can deliver in the clutch, hitting a heavily contested jumper off an inbounds pass with eight seconds remaining in regulation.

“It was great defense. The best they could play,” Monk said after the game. “We ran through that play a lot at practice and worked on it everyday so I was able to knock down the shot.” 

These two examples are only a couple of the games that Monk has displayed his high volume scoring. Another one was against then-No. 13 Florida, in which Monk scored 30 in the second half to help beat the Gators.

In cases like Georgia and UNC, Monk’s scoring was able to erase great performances from opposing teams. Against Florida, Monk’s 30 points helped eliminate the absence of UK starting point guard De’Aaron Fox. And Monk has had smaller in-game bursts that helped UK with other issues, thus proving that when he’s hot, Monk is a free pass for UK. 

So this postseason, UK has its own get out of jail free card, leaving the worrying for all its potential opponents on how they can possibly stop Monk.