While the competition may be fierce, Kentucky freshmen De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk have formed a mutual admiration society with UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball.
“I played with him at the McDonald’s Game, so I know him a little bit,” Monk said of Ball on Friday. “Great. He’s a great player.”
Earlier in the week, Ball spoke well of Monk and Fox. He, too, said he played in the McDonald’s All-American Game with the UK duo. Plus, he said, he got acquainted with Fox at camps.
“Fox is pretty fun,” Ball said. “So it’ll be good going against him. And Malik is a good dude, too.”
UK Coach John Calipari did not sound concerned about the questioning of Fox’s triple-double against Arizona State on Monday. One of his 10 assists was reviewed after it was discovered that he did not make a direct pass to Monk, who made a three-pointer on the play.
Calipari said he would have reinserted Fox into the game to make sure he got the 10th assist.
The play in question occurred at the 15:15 mark of the second half. Fox played 31 minutes, and left the game for good with 4:17 left.
“He’ll probably have another (triple-double),” Calipari said. “He wasn’t worried about it. I said, ‘You know, they may take away one of your assists.’ He said he didn’t care.”
Arguably, Monk made the play of the game against Arizona State. After losing his balance and starting to fall to the floor, he redirected a fast-break pass to teammate Wenyen Gabriel.
When asked how he made such a play, Monk said, “I don’t even know.” It looked “crazy” on the game video.
“Coach Cal says I’m going to do something like that every game,” Monk said, “and nobody’s going to know it.”
Kentucky apparently hasn’t forgotten the 87-77 loss at UCLA last season.
When asked if that game had been discussed during preparation for Saturday’s game, Monk said, “Them going to UCLA and just getting beat like that, Cal brings it up every practice now because we’re (about) to play UCLA.”
What does Calipari say?
“Remember last year,” Monk said. “Just remember the feeling you had last year.”
Of course, the UK freshmen did not experience the defeat nor the feeling.
“‘Zay knows it,” Monk said of teammate Isaiah Briscoe. “He tells us about it.”
And what does Briscoe say?
“It doesn’t feel good to lose like that on national TV,” Monk said.
UCLA led for 38-plus minutes last season. UK led for 30 seconds, and by no more than two points.
Scoring equals hope
As Calipari sees it, two high-powered offenses make deep runs in the NCAA Tournament a credible hope for Kentucky and UCLA.
“I’ve always said, to advance in the NCAA Tournament, you can’t be a team that scores 62 points a game,” he said. “You want to win a national championship (and) get to Final Fours, scoring 62 points a game makes it really hard. Here’s why: You’re going to play a team that can score 75. And if you can’t score 75, you just lost the game.
“And that’s why you’d like to have your team scoring near 80, 75 to 80 points.”
When asked if an earlier game setting would prepare UCLA for Rupp Arena, Bruins Coach Steve Alford said, “No comparison. I’ve played there. I’ve been part of that. And it’s arguably one of the best atmospheres in college basketball.
“So our freshmen haven’t experienced that, and I’m not sure our vets have experienced anything like that either. … There’s obviously some concern there.”
Ball acknowledged that Rupp Arena will be a new experience.
“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “You know, I’ve never played in an atmosphere like that from what they’re telling me. So it’s going to be something different. Once again, it’s just a game I love. Basketball. Going up and down with a great team.”
‘A dad thing’
UCLA senior Bryce Alford has made 32 of 34 free throws. That ranks 13th nationally. Leading the nation are George Washington’s Jaren Sina (22 of 22), DePaul’s Billy Garrett Jr., (21 of 21) and Notre Dame’s Matt Farrell (19 of 19).
“It’s one area I haven’t relinquished to him yet,” Alford’s father, the UCLA coach, said. “I’ve told him, he can shoot the three better and he can dance with his feet much better than I ever could and create shots for himself and his teammates much better than I could. I needed a lot of help with that.
“But I haven’t relinquished the foul line yet because I’ve told him, I’ve been over 90 (percent) at year’s end. There’s a difference. That’s more of a dad thing, but I’m not giving up the foul line quite yet.”
UK leaped into action when “a couple of guys” became ill this week, Calipari said. Physical and mental health were addressed.
“So we sanitized everything,” he said. “‘You guys are fine.’ Locker room. Bathroom. Shower. Video (room). Their common area. …
“We just fumigated everything. Now there are dead animals everywhere.”
22 to 2
Dominique Hawkins had at least twice as many assists as turnovers in each of his three previous seasons, but nothing like the 22 assists and two turnovers so far this season.
“He’s making easy plays,” Calipari said. “He’s a better basketball player. He’s got a better feel for the game. He’s more confident. … There’s no anxiousness, so he just plays.”
In his first three seasons, Hawkins had 39 assists and 17 turnovers.
▪ UCLA is No. 9 in the coaches’ poll. That marks the Bruins’ first top-10 ranking since Feb. 9, 2009.
▪ Brad Nessler and Bill Raftery will call the game for CBS.