Malik Monk’s historic 47-point performance against North Carolina included some equally headline-worthy irony.
As Monk’s AAU coach told The Associated Press, “He went to Kentucky to not have to carry the load.”
Of course, Monk carried a load last Saturday like only four previous Kentucky players have done. The select company: Dan Issel, Cliff Hagan, Bob Burrow and Jodie Meeks.
One obvious question looms over Wednesday’s Kentucky-Louisville game: What can Monk do for an encore?
“Don’t be surprised if in the next two or three games, you see a falloff,” the AAU coach, Ron Crawford, told the AP. “But when his three is on, it changes his game.”
Monk, whose eight three-pointers against UNC equaled the most by a UK player in John Calipari’s eight seasons as coach, remains on pace to break Meeks’ program record for threes in a season.
At Tuesday’s media availability, Monk and Calipari seemed to welcome the idea of fewer three-pointers.
“The three wasn’t really my first choice ever,” Monk said. “I’d rather get to the lane. But I’ve been open for the three, so I’m going to take the three. Whatever’s open, that’s what I’m going to take.”
And, Monk said, he doesn’t need much room to feel open. “Like an inch,” he said. “Just enough room to get a shot up.”
Of course, I know they will have some kind of defensive tricks for me. But we just have to run through our offense, and let the game come to you. If they play me differently, I’m going to show the other tools I have.
Malik Monk, on facing Louisville and other teams’ defenses
Fewer three-point shots and more free throws would please Calipari. Again on Tuesday, the UK coach spoke of Monk not relying solely on perimeter shots.
“He’s got to get fouled more,” Calipari said before adding of the game at Louisville, “This is a game you can get fouled more. So go! Get fouled more. Get to that line.”
Monk averages 2.5 free throw attempts per game. That average has the potential to rise given U of L’s aggressive defense.
Calipari is doing all he can to get Monk to the foul line. It will probably go down in UK basketball lore that before Monk took and made the game-winning three-pointer against North Carolina, Calipari called for the player to drive.
It wasn’t anything Monk had not heard before.
“Every time I catch it,” Monk said. “Every time I touch the ball.”
This season, Monk has taken more than three times as many three-point shots (90) as free throws (28). But he wants to obey the UK coach.
“Coach Cal’s right,” Monk said. “He’s always right. He’s the coach, and he knows what he’s talking about.”
So, why doesn’t Monk follow Calipari’s instructions more often? “It’s kind of hard when you’re making a lot of shots,” Monk said with unassailable logic on his side.
Calipari has intimated that Monk’s infrequent trips to the foul line reflect a desire to avoid contact.
“That’s what he thinks,” Monk said. “But I played football a lot. I’m used to contact.”
With UK down two inside the final 20 seconds against UNC, Monk took a lower-percentage three-point shot rather than try to drive and draw a foul. He’s an 82.1-percent free throw shooter.
“It just better work if you’re not doing what I’m asking you to do,” said Calipari, who conceded that “there are times, they have a better feel than I do.”
Monk enters the game at Louisville with a scoring average of 21.9 points. If maintained or increased, it would be the highest scoring average of any player in Calipari’s head coaching career. Dajuan Wagner averaged 21.3 for Memphis in 2001-02. Marcus Camby averaged 20.5 for UMass in 1995-96.
Monk expects opposing defenses to do their part to lower that scoring average.
“Of course, I know they will have some kind of defensive tricks for me,” he said. “But we just have to run through our offense, and let the game come to you.
“If they play me differently, I’m going to show the other tools I have. It’s just how the defense plays me.”
Even if being too dependent on three-pointers was the topic of the day, teammate Dominique Hawkins marveled at the versatility of Monk’s offensive skills.
“Just the way he gets open to get his shots,” Hawkins said. “It’s insane. I’ve been here four years, and I’ve never seen somebody shoot the ball and score as many ways as he did during that game.”
Calipari, who prides himself on demanding more when players excel, has repeatedly questioned why Monk does not grab more rebounds. Monk did not have a rebound against North Carolina.
“He always brings that up,” Monk said.
Monk said he did not rebound more, in part, because he was getting an early start on UK’s fast break when the opposing team shot. Of course, transition offense is a foundational part of Kentucky’s approach this season.
Calipari explained when a player should start going downcourt and when to go for the rebound.
“If you’re near a man and the shot goes up, you’d probably want to check him out,” the UK coach said. “If you’re not near anyone, go ahead and run.”
Monk seemed unsure of when to rebound and when to run. “We still haven’t figured that out yet,” he said.
No. 6 Kentucky at No. 10 Louisville
When: 7 p.m.
Records: UK 10-1, Louisville 10-1
Series: UK leads 34-15
Last meeting: UK won 75-73 on Dec. 26, 2015, in Lexington.
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1