UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky needs Monk’s cold blood to claim battle of blue bloods

Malik Monk wears No. 5 because on the fifth day of creation, God made the animals. North Carolina probably wished Monk had followed God’s example on the seventh day and rested.

On this Saturday, Monk scored more points than any player in John Calipari’s eight seasons as coach. His 47 points propelled Kentucky to a 103-100 victory over North Carolina.

No player has scored more against the Tar Heels since Dick Groat had 48 in 1952.

“It’s not just that he had a bunch of baskets,” UK Coach John Calipari said. “He made like daggers that gave us a chance.”

Monk’s biggest points were the final three. North Carolina, which led for less than four minutes total, relentlessly chewed at Kentucky’s heels. Eventually UNC took a 100-98 lead on Justin Jackson’s layup with 44.8 seconds left. It was the first time the Tar Heels had led since the 14:52 mark of the first half.

Monk answered. After hesitating, he hit a three-pointer over Isaiah Hicks from the left wing with 16.7 seconds left to regain the lead for UK.

Why hesitate after having made 17 of your previous 27 shots (seven of 11 from three-point range)?

“Coach Cal told me to drive,” Monk said. “But I was hot …”

Calipari, who has repeatedly talked about the need for Monk to diversify his game by driving and drawing fouls, confessed that he ordered a drive.

“Because it was a two-point game and I’d rather him have gone to the rim and got fouled. …

“I said, ‘Drive that ball, drive it!’ And he shot a three, and it went in. I said, ‘Great shot, kid.’”

After a Carolina miss, De’Aaron Fox made two free throws — banking in the second — to set the final score.

Monk had a royal performance in this battle of college basketball blue bloods. He broke the previous record for points by a player in the Calipari era: 35, which Jamal Murray scored against Florida last Feb. 6 and Terrence Jones scored against Auburn on Jan. 11, 2011.

Only six times previously had a Kentucky player scored as many as 47 points in a game, only once since 1970: Jodie Meeks’ record 54-point game in 2009.

Earlier in the week, associate coach Kenny Payne put Monk’s abilities in a historical context.

“He’s naturally one of the most gifted basketball players that we’ve probably had here in a long time,” Payne said.

The offense displayed by the two teams had rarely been duplicated. The 203 points were the most scored in a UK game since a 111-103 loss to VMI to open the 2008-09 season.

Despite Kentucky hitting an offensive jackpot, North Carolina did not submit meekly. That did not surprise Calipari, who said on Thursday, “They’ve been in close games, which tells you they’re not afraid.”

Led by Jackson, who scored 34 points, the Tar Heels closed within 93-91 with 3:47 left.

Monk — who else? — eased the tension by hitting a pull-up shot in the lane while closely guarded by Kenny Williams.

That Kentucky’s guards led the way to a 10th victory in 11 games followed form.

“Their guards are amazing,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said earlier in the week. “I can’t remember a faster backcourt than those two. … Monk is one of the best pull-up jump shooters in the country.”

Monk’s 27 points in the first half equaled a record for a UK player in the eight seasons with Calipari as coach. Murray scored 27 points in the second half against Ohio State last season.

Monk could have broken the record. But he made only one of two free throws with 4.7 seconds left, leaving him tied with Murray and UK ahead 56-51.

How did it feel to score so much? “Like a pickup game,” Monk said.

From the beginning, Monk showed he had a hot hand. He scored eight of UK’s first 10 points, and 15 of the first 21.

“I usually take the first shot of the game,” Monk said. “And if I make it, I know I’ll have a good game.”

Like a blackjack player who keeps hitting 21, Monk could do little wrong in eclipsing his previous high for a game (26 versus UT Martin) in the opening half.

He made four of eight three-point shots, three of the treys coming inside the first six minutes.

Monk also gave Calipari more of what the UK coach had been asking for: drawing fouls. Monk, who came into the game averaging 2.3 free throw attempts, made three of four in the half, and took five overall, which equaled a career high.

Kentucky needed Monk to keep on keeping on. Led by Jackson, whose 20 first-half points were obscured by Monk, UNC trailed only by five at the break.

The Tar Heels trailed by as much as 12, but kept competing in a game that had no losers.

“If you watched that game, if you never liked basketball, you’re going to start liking basketball,” Calipari said. “Like, wow. ‘If that’s what it is, I’m going to start watching basketball.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

Next game

Kentucky at Louisville

7 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN)

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