Kentucky’s leading scorer, Malik Monk, broke out of a shooting slump by scoring 21 points against UCLA on Friday. But teammate De’Aaron Fox said this was not the volcanic eruption of points he had been predicting.
“That was just a rumble,” Fox said Saturday. “It was a good game. Some lava probably spilled over a little bit. But 21 (points), that’s Malik’s average. That’s what he does.”
The eruption of Mount Monk will be much more dramatic, perhaps as his 47 points buried North Carolina in ash in December, Fox said.
“When his shot is going, he can literally shut his eyes and throw it up and it’s going to go in,” Fox said.
For one season on the AAU team Houston Hoops, North Carolina wing Justin Jackson and Fox were teammates. Jackson was a high school senior, Fox a freshman.
Though brief, Jackson found the association memorable.
“I remember going one-on-one, me, Justise, Kelly and him,” Jackson said. That would be Kelly Oubre Jr., (Kansas) and Justise Winslow (Duke).
“He was not only holding his own, he was winning some of them,” Jackson said of these one-on-one games. “That’s when everybody knew this guy was going to be pretty good. But I didn’t know he was going to be like this.”
Monk enjoyed reliving the clutch three-pointer he made near the end of the first game against North Carolina. He took and made the shot while UK Coach John Calipari yelled for him to “Drive!”
“He says that all the time,” Monk said with a smile.
When asked why he didn’t follow the instruction, Monk said. “Because I was making shots.”
When a reporter asked what it was like to be so hot (he made eight of 12 three-point shots against UNC), Monk joked. “Then I’m definitely not listening to him if I’m in that kind of zone.”
This led to a question about how big the basket seemed that evening in Las Vegas. “Like this table,” Monk said as he swiped an arm across the table.
A question asked of several UK players was who had the most spectacular scoring game: Ex-Cat Devin Booker’s 70 points at Boston on Friday night, Monk’s 47-point game against UNC or Fox’s 39 points against UCLA on Friday?
Booker won by an unanimous vote.
“I’ll tie them (Monk and Fox) at No. 2,” Wenyen Gabriel said.
Monk put himself second and Fox third. Fox agreed with that order.
From fan to foe
Fox has gone from fan to foe of North Carolina.
“I grew up kind of a North Carolina fan,” he said. “I love my man Justin (Jackson). So I support him and watch him.”
Fox cited two reasons for his rooting of UNC.
“Knowing Michael Jordan went there,” he said with a smile.
Plus the Tar Heels win, he said.
When asked if UK’s veterans hazed the freshmen, Fox quipped, “No. There’s a lot more of us than them.”
Avenging a regular-season defeat motivated Kentucky against UCLA on Friday. Might that do the same for North Carolina against UK on Sunday?
This question made Jackson chuckle. “We look at it as a game to try to get to the Final Four,” he said.
North Carolina has not had a one-and-done player in 10 years. Jackson, a five-star prospect, tried to explain.
“In my opinion, people just fall in love with Carolina,” he said. “But, for me, I never had my mind set on going one-and-done.
“Everybody falls in love with the campus. Everybody falls in love with the program. And overall, it’s a family. Sometimes it’s hard to leave a family.”
UNC point guard Joel Berry II said that Kris Jenkins’ game-winning shot in last year’s national championship game still hurts.
“As soon as it went in, it was just heart-breaking knowing you didn’t have any more time to go out there and compete again,” he said. “. . . You just think about that all the time.”
Final Four finalized
During the formal news conference, Fox spoke playfully about Kentucky going to the Final Four. This led Calipari to edit his point guard.
When asked about the Southeastern Conference being assured of a team in the Final Four with Florida playing South Carolina in the East Region finals, Fox said, “I want to say it’s going to be two in there.”
This led Calipari to inject, “I don’t know about that. He didn’t say that.”
Later, when asked about one-and-done players, Fox said, “If things go as planned, we still have three games left. So that’s not in my mind right now.”
To which, Calipari said, “You better play well, that’s all I’m saying, with the stuff you’re saying.”