Cats tough it out for the first time this season in OT win over Georgia

Kentucky celebrates after a late 3-point shot during the gaming against Georgia at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. on Tuesday, January 31, 2017. Photo by Josh Mott | Staff.

Anthony Crawford

Tuesday night’s matchup between No. 8 UK men’s basketball and the Georgia Bulldogs did not go as expected, as the two teams needed overtime before UK was finally able to pull away on the back of a 37-point performance from freshman Malik Monk. 

The shooting exhibition put on by Monk was as memorable as any other, but toughness shown throughout the team was the difference in a game that saw the Cats be tested early and often. 

Before the game even started, the Cats had a few strikes against them playing short-handed without the team’s point guard in De’Aaron Fox, and also with Mychal Mulder and Sacha Killeya-Jones.

The lineup shakeup caused some noticeable confusion to start the game as UK fell behind 12-0 and looked to be in danger of dropping three straight games for the first time under head coach John Calipari. To make matters worse, Bam Adebayo picked up two quick fouls, forcing him to sit all but five minutes in the half and be held scoreless in those.

Without Fox and Adebayo, the team looked lost on both ends and was left searching for a new way to win, something that the team has struggled with during this past two-game losing streak.

Some direction was given to the team when Calipari bit the bullet and had UK play a zone midway through the first half. Then the team was given an extra bump when foul trouble forced Calipari to give some minutes to the end of his bench, more specifically Tai Wynyard.

Wynyard excelled doing what he does best — being a physical presence inside — and effectively changed the complexion of the game in the first half. While his stat line in the half may have been underwhelming (one rebound, one steal and one block), he finished with a team high +12 in plus/minus.

“The one thing you get with Tai, he’s going to mix it up,” Calipari said. “He’s going to be physical. He’s going to push on people.”

Wynyard’s presence also helped carved out enough room in the paint for UK to secure half of it’s misses in the half and use 13 second chance points to climb back into the game and go into the locker room tied at 29-29, instead of looking at a deficit.

In the second half UK started to look more like its normal self. The zone allowed the Cats to force some turnovers to get some easy looks in transition and it also helped that Monk got hot. 

During a stretch starting about four minutes into the second half, Monk hit five threes in six scoring possessions for UK, broken up only by an Adebayo jump hook. 

Monk’s shot making carried on until the end of regulation where his jumper with eight seconds left forced overtime and also helped seal the victory once there.

The victory, while bad on paper, may have been the shot in the arm the team needed. The under-manned Cats had to scrap out a victory and the team should walk away better because of it. 

“Well, the thing I told them after, the teams that I really enjoyed coaching will shoot 35 percent and still win a game because they’ll grind it, because they’re tough mentally. They’re tough,” Calipari said. “They’ll come up with balls physically. They’re not going to turn it over late. They’re going to make all the plays they have to make late to win. This team, for the first time this year, did it.”

Other News:

De’Aaron Fox named one of 10 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award. The freshman point guard didn’t see action against the Bulldogs Tuesday as he sat at due to sickness, per UK, but he was in the headlines to start the week being named to the short list of finalist for this award Monday.

The Bob Cousy Award is awarded by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to the top point guard in the country. Fox is one of four freshmen to be named as a finalist and is the only one playing in the footsteps of a past winner, as Tyler Ulis took home the award last year for UK.

Fox has done well thus far this season to make a case for himself with averages of 15.9 points, 5.7 assists and 1.6 steals and leading UK with four double-doubles on the year. Earlier this season, Fox also secured UK’s first triple-double since 1988 in a win over Arizona State in the Bahamas.

The winner of the award will be announced on April 7 during ESPN’s College Basketball Awards show. 

Malik Monk named one of 10 finalists for the Jerry West Award. Monk, not to let his backcourt mate receive all the shine, earned some praise with the announcement Tuesday that he was among the finalist for the award given to the top shooting guard in college basketball.

This honor is also handed out by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and Monk is the only freshman on the list.

Monk made his case for the award stronger against Georgia finishing with 37 points, the second highest scoring performance for a freshman with the first being his 47-point outing against North Carolina earlier this season. The freshman has finished with double-digit scoring in every game this season and his 22.4 point per game is ranked 11th in the nation. 

The award winner will be announced during the same show as the Bob Cousy award.