Three quick takeaways from Kentucky’s classic 103-100 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas:
1. The day Malik Monk became a Kentucky basketball legend
Just an epic performance by the freshman guard, his 47 points breaking the school record for a rookie. It was more than that, however. It was the way Monk hit huge shots down the stretch when North Carolina threatened to pull out he victory.
After North Carolina went up 98-95 on Justin Jackson’s three-pointer with 1:33 remaining, Monk matched it with a three from the left wing to tie the game at 98-98 with 1:17 remaining.
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When Jackson scored while being fouled, but missed the free throw, leaving North Carolina with a 101-100 lead with 44 seconds remaining, again Monk hit a cold-blooded three from the left side to put the Cats in front for good.
“The rim was big already,” Monk told CBS when asked about the shot.
Monk carried the Cats, hitting 18 of 28 from the floor, including eight of 12 from three-point line. He was three of five from the foul line. Monk scored a career-high 27 points in the first half alone, then came back with 20 more in the second half.
2. Maybe the best Kentucky-North Carolina game ever
There have been some really good ones over the years, going back to the Dean Smith vs. Adolph Rupp battles, to some NCAA Tournament games, to Anthony Davis’ block of Jon Henson’s shot that saved UK’s thrilling one-point win in 2011, the season the Cats went on to win the national championship.
Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in the City That Never Sleeps, they played basketball the way you’re supposed to play basketball. Both teams pushed the tempo. Both teams made incredible plays. Both teams refused to back down. Kentucky came away with a three-point win, but no one would have been terribly surprised if the Tar Heels had ended up winning by the same margin.
It was just fun basketball to watch, with incredible athletes and great playmaking. And let’s not forget the coaches, a pair of Hall of Famers. Roy Williams at North Carolina and John Calipari at Kentucky have kept both programs not just relevant, but legendary.
“If you’re just now tuning in, shame on you,” CBS's Brad Nessler said midway through the second half, and that pretty much summed it up.
3. In the end, Kentucky gets a significant win
Yes, in their 9-1 start, the Cats had won those nine by at least 21 points or more. The one loss, however, was to the best team UK had played (by far), when UCLA stunned Calipari’s club 97-92 at Rupp Arena.
A loss on Saturday to a very good North Carolina team might have raised more questions about just how good this young Kentucky team really is or really can be.
Instead, UK was impressive not just in getting in the win over the Tar Heels, but winning a close game, something the Cats had not done to this point. North Carolina had played in close games, edging Davidson and Tennessee recently. Kentucky had not, at least not until Saturday, when the Cats came through with flying colors against a really good basketball team.
Let’s say we replay this game in March?