Besides Kentucky fans, coaches and players, maybe no one was more pleased by Malik Monk’s revival Saturday than alarm clock manufacturers.
Monk credited an early-morning workout for his 20-point performance in Kentucky’s 79-74 victory over Alabama on Saturday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals. As UK fans know, Monk had made only three of 17 shots and scored eight points in the two most recent games.
Monk and teammate Wenyen Gabriel came to Bridgestone Arena for a workout at 7:30 a.m. Central time. Associate Coach Kenny Payne and assistant Joel Justus accompanied the players at a scaled-down pregame shootaround.
“We got in, like, 30 minutes of work …,” Monk said. “I think that helped me a lot.”
Monk made six of 14 shots against the Tide.
“I think I’ll get hot off that,” he said.
Monk acknowledged how he conducted a heat check early in the game. After making his first three shots and scoring eight of UK’s first 10 points, he launched from 25 feet or more. He missed.
“When I made my first shot, I’m having a heat check on the next shot,” he said. “Literally. That was a heat check.”
Monk, whom the UK coaches say has the greenest light to shoot on the team, knows he can conduct a heat check.
“They know I’ll take a heat-check shot sometimes,” he said. “And they’ll be fine with it. If I make it or miss it, it’ll be all right.”
UK Coach John Calipari welcomed Monk’s early-morning workout and the 20-point performance.
“Like happy as heck at how he played,” Calipari said.
His teammates seemed unconcerned with Monk’s two-game shooting struggles.
“We weren’t worried about that,” Isaiah Briscoe said. “A shooter keeps shooting, and he’s going to keep shooting.”
Monk said he was not worried.
“I was shooting the same shots I shot yesterday,” he said. “I was just way more focused.”
Monk will have additional company on the next personal shootaround. Derek Willis said he wants to participate.
At times down the stretch Saturday, Kentucky played a four-guard lineup featuring De’Aaron Fox, Dominique Hawkins, Briscoe and Monk.
Calipari said he used four guards in order to defend three-point shooter Riley Norris. Briscoe had the assignment.
The Cats said they had not practiced much with a four-guard lineup.
“Maybe we have before,” Hawkins said, “but it’s been a long time since we had.”
Defense was the reason for the four-guard lineup, Briscoe said. The Cats could switch everything on the perimeter and better contain penetrating drives.
Alabama hurt Kentucky early with offensive rebounds. Nine of Alabama’s first 14 points came off second-chance opportunities.
The Tide had only six more second-chance points the rest of the game, all in the second half.
“Took some guys out, if you want to say it nicely,” Calipari said of substituting to find better rebounding. “I told some guys, ‘You are out.’ They were just more physical than us.”
It’s the shoes
Fox slipped twice early in the game.
“So after one media timeout, I switched them,” Fox said of a change of shoes, “and I didn’t slip anymore.”
UK will be seeking a third straight SEC Tournament championship. The last team to win three straight SEC Tournaments was Florida in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Kentucky last won three straight conference tournaments in 1997, 1998 and 1999.
Kentucky is the only program to win more than three straight SEC tournaments. UK won four in a row in 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995. UK won seven in a row in 1944 through 1950.
By defeating Vanderbilt 76-62, Arkansas advanced to Sunday’s championship game against Kentucky.
“They’re a good team,” guard Dusty Hannahs said, “but so are we.”
Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson spoke of the multiple challenges UK presents.
Of defending De’Aaron Fox, Anderson said, “We can’t do it with one-on-one. … We’ve got to build a wall and make him find somebody else.”
Anderson mentioned Bam Adebayo, Briscoe, Monk and Willis as threats.
But Anderson downplayed the importance of an expected large contingent of UK fans.
“It would be played out on the court,” the Arkansas coach said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Avery Johnson’s college coach, Ben Jobe, died on Friday.
“It’s really been an emotional 10 days …,” the Alabama coach said. “He was admitted to the hospital 10 days ago and, you know, it was pretty touch and go from the time he arrived in the hospital. …
“Special man. Pioneer in basketball. Mentor.”
Jobe visited the Alabama campus a month or so ago and spoke to the Alabama players.
“He had a great sense of humor and a bunch of stories about me,” Johnson said. “Not all of them are true.”
Monk improved his scoring average to 19.9 points. For the moment, Sindarius Thornwell of South Carolina is the SEC’s leading scorer with an average of 20.9 points. … Alabama has a losing record in the SEC Tournament against only one team. Of course, that team is Kentucky. UK improved its SEC Tournament record against Alabama to 15-2. … Avery Johnson’s record against ranked opponents fell to 5-7.