Fox tallies career-high 27 points, leads UK past Arkansas


Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox directs the offense during the second half of the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Rupp Arena on Saturday, January 7, 2017 in Lexington, KY. Photo by Addison Coffey | Staff.

Anthony Crawford

Freshman Malik Monk did not turn in the dominant scoring performance that many expected he would against his home state Arkansas Razorbacks, but that allowed No. 6 UK men’s basketball to look elsewhere for points, leading to an impressive second half performance.

Monk’s freshman running mate De’Aaron Fox took his turn in pacing the Cats, totaling a career-high 27 points in UK’s 97-71 victory over Arkansas. Fox led UK in scoring, but the team saw multiple great performances as five players finished with double-figures in points and the team shot over 50 percent from the field.

Coming into Rupp Arena as double-digit underdogs, the Razorbacks defied some expectations early giving UK all it could handle in the first half. UK struggled as it’s leading scorer did, with Monk going for only two points on 1-for-4 shooting in the first half of play.

“It’s really hard playing your hometown team. It’s just hard,” UK head coach John Calipari said. 

Monk turned it around in the second half and finished with 12 points and three assists, but by that time UK had already taken control of the game.

In the opening minutes, the lead went back-and-forth until UK found some scoring in senior Derek Willis. He finished with a season-high 15 points, but played a big part in the first half going 3-for-3 from the field (2-for-2 from three) for eight points in eight minutes.

Despite Monk’s struggles, UK went into the locker room with a 41-38 lead. Arkansas was led by Jaylen Barford’s 14 first half points.

In the second half, the game started to speed up some and, in turn, UK started to look a lot more comfortable. The Razorbacks found success in the first half scoring in the paint on UK, but a revamped effort from UK’s guards on the perimeter led to Arkansas struggling more to score and UK getting out and running.

Fox was the difference for UK in the game, and it showed in the second half as he raced out on the Razorbacks’ defense before it was even set. His 27 points were full of looks right at the rim, but he also left his touch on the game by collecting six rebounds and dishing out six assists.

The freshman guard got going when Arkansas made the mistake of pressing UK upon inbounding the ball. That’s when Fox showcased his speed in beating defenders and getting right to the rim, and the game opened up for UK as a result.

The Razorbacks did well to hang with UK during the first half, but once the Cats started to pull away things started to get chippy between the two teams. The biggest instance occurred at the 14:40 minute mark after Fox and Barford got into it following a charge called against Barford. Briscoe drew the foul and as Barford got to his feet, he seemingly stepped on Briscoe’s leg. The two were issued technicals, but the altercation fueled a UK run that put the game away even more.

“My team won’t be bullied. This isn’t that kind of team. The issue is it gets you more focused and sharper, and more disciplined,” Calipari said. “That’s what good teams are. You’re not going to bully us into a loss. That’s not how these kids — you think about who is on this team. So they’ll fight back.”

Things got chippy once more as Bam Adebayo received a hard foul from an Arkansas defender. Adebayo spent a lot of time at the free throw line on the night, ending the game going 5-for-10 there. When he wasn’t being fouled, Adebayo was a force for UK on the offensive glass. The freshman finished with four offensive rebounds that turned into a few highlight put-back dunks. He finished with totals of 11 points and seven rebounds.

Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson made a point after the game in saying this matchup was bigger than just playing against Monk. UK showed that, as Fox and company rose to the occasion and cruised to another SEC victory.