The “Monk funk” has become a thing.
When Malik Monk faced a horde of reporters Saturday in the Kentucky Wildcats’ locker room inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the prevailing theme of questioning involved Monk’s currently errant jump shot.
The guy who lit up North Carolina for 47 points, Georgia for 37 (first meeting) and Florida for 34 (second meeting) is mired in a shooting lull.
Having gone 3-of-11, 0-of-6 on three-pointers, in UK’s 79-70 win Friday over Northern Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament round of 64, Monk is now 17-of-54 (31.5 percent) on field goals and 3-of-21 on treys (14.9 percent) in UK’s last five games.
With Kentucky (30-5, winner of 12 straight games) set to face Wichita State (31-4, winner of 16 straight) in the South Region round of 32 Sunday afternoon around 2:40 p.m., a concerned (Big Blue) nation has turned its eyes to Monk’s jumper.
So, Malik, what is going on with your jump shot?
“I’m fine,” Monk said. “If I miss, I will still shoot the same shot I did before. If I make it, I’m still going to shoot the same shot. … I always feel like my (shooting) stroke is there.”
This week, speculation has run rampant about Monk’s health. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound freshman from Lepanto, Ark., acknowledged he “got banged up” in UK’s victory over Arkansas in the SEC Tournament finals.
“My lower hip,” Monk said. “But (UK trainers) did a great job with that. I got over that real fast. …I’m fine.”
Still, UK head coach John Calipari said Monk missed practice time this week due to his hip. “He didn’t practice for two days,” Calipari reported.
Monk, Kentucky’s leading scorer (20.4 ppg), must try to get his shot dialed back in Sunday against a foe that is uniquely well-suited to frustrate a perimeter scorer.
You might know, we’re a pretty good defensive team. We’re going to mix some things up and throw some things at (Monk) he probably hasn’t seen before.
Darral Willis Jr., Wichita State backup center
In 6-6 junior Zach Brown, 6-7 junior Rashard Kelly and 6-8 sophomore Markis McDuffie, Wichita State Coach Gregg Marshall has three long, athletic defenders he can alternate to harass Monk.
Including 6-4 point guard Landry Shamet, “I think that’s one of the interesting things about our team, all those guys can guard (positions) one through four,” Marshall said. “It gives us flexibility in matchups.”
McDuffie said WSU will concentrate on not allowing Monk to get off to a good start. “We got to let him know it will be hard for him to score,” McDuffie said.
Wichita State backup center Darral Willis Jr. said the Shockers “have to force (Monk) to his off-hand. … You might know, we’re a pretty good defensive team. We’re going to mix some things up and throw some things at (Monk) he probably hasn’t seen before.”
With Monk’s outside shot not falling vs. NKU, Calipari said he liked that the guard limited himself to six attempted treys and went 3-of-5 inside the arc.
“He took ‘twos,’ he drove the ball,” Calipari said. “He drove the ball. He made (6-of-7) free throws.”
Kentucky super-sub Dominique Hawkins said the threat of Monk’s long-range shooting (95 made treys this season, 39.3 percent) makes him an asset to the Cats even when the threes aren’t connecting.
“He spreads the court out for us,” Hawkins said. “It’s easier to drive the ball when he’s out there. Also, it opens up (UK center) Bam (Adebayo) in the post.”
Even the best shooters hit lulls, of course. Two seasons ago, then-UK sharpshooter Devin Booker went a combined 3-of-16 on three-point shots in the SEC Tournament and Kentucky’s first two NCAA tourney contests.
Booker kept shooting, however, and was 4-of-8 on three-pointers over two games as UK beat West Virginia and Notre Dame to advance to the 2015 Final Four.
Monk plans to take the same “keep firing” approach. “But I’m going to listen to Cal (and) drive the ball. If I drive the ball, it will open up my shot. I’ll be fine,” he said.
With UK’s season in the balance, Calipari hopes so.
“(Monk’s) one of those you say, ‘Man, he’s due,’” Calipari said. “Let’s just hope he’s due.”
Kentucky vs. Wichita State
What: NCAA Tournament South Regional round-of-32 game
When: About 2:40 p.m.
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: Kentucky 30-5, Wichita State 31-4
Series: Kentucky leads 1-0
Last meeting: Kentucky won 78-76 on March 23, 2014, at the NCAA Tournament in St. Louis.