John Clay

De’Aaron Fox, quick as lightning, saved Kentucky basketball Tuesday

Having slipped into what its coach called “AAU mode,” Kentucky’s 18-point lead had eroded to three points before a raucous Mississippi State home crowd Tuesday night when down the stretch the nation’s fifth-ranked team needed someone, anyone to right the ship.

In a flash, here came De’Aaron Fox.

“Right now, with this team, we don’t have a go-to person,” the freshman point guard said afterward. “We don’t have that right now, so whoever has the hot hand that game is the one who did it. The North Carolina game Malik (Monk) did it. The Vanderbilt game Isaiah (Briscoe) kind of did it. This game it was my turn.”

Nine straight points did Fox score. With the Cats clinging to a 76-71 lead with just less than four minutes to play, the guard scored on a lightning-quick drive at the 3:47 mark. At 2:43, he made one of two free throws to extend the lead to 79-71.

With 1:34 left, he dunked off a drive to make it 81-75. With 56 seconds left, he scored on another drive, this time while being fouled, then sank the free throw to make it 84-76 Cats.

Finally, with 47 seconds left, Fox made the second of two free throws for an 85-78 lead in what was ultimately an 88-81 Kentucky victory.

On a frenetic, foul-filled night, Fox scored 21 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished five assists as Kentucky improved its record to 16-2 overall and 6-0 in the SEC.

“I just said, ‘You know what? Malik isn’t playing as well as he’s played. He’s struggling,’” Calipari said afterward. “So we just said, ‘Here you go, De’Aaron, go do your thing.’”

Given his record-setting 47-point outburst in the 103-100 win over North Carolina, his three-point shooting and outrageous athletic ability, Monk has garnered a lot of the national attention when it comes to Kentucky’s current group of fab freshmen, but of late it is Fox who has made his presence felt.

He scored 27 points in UK’s home rout of Arkansas and 22 in a hard-fought win at Vanderbilt. After fouling out with just 13 points against Auburn last Saturday, he kept away from the foul problems that plagued both teams to play the hero’s role Tuesday night.

One reason for Fox’s recent surge has been his improved shooting. He is undeniably one of the nation’s quickest players in the open court, but early in the year, when his path to the rim was blocked, Fox had trouble hitting the pull-up jumper or connecting on floaters.

Calipari’s advice was for Fox to spend more time in the Joe Craft Center getting up shots and the freshman has complied. The proof is in the production. Over the last four games, Fox has made 35 of 59 shots from the floor for 59.3 percent.

He’s not a three-point shooter. For the season, Fox has made just five of 37 attempts from beyond the arc for 13.5 percent. Even the extra time in the gym has not solved the problem. He’s one-for-11 from three over his last six games.

He also needs improvement in another important area, as Calipari pointed out in Tuesday’s postgame.

“De’Aaron has got to make free throws,” said the coach. “You can’t have your point guard going 0-for-1, or 1-for-2 or 0-for-2, you just can’t have it. That guy’s got to make free throws.”

Fox was 5-of-9 from the line Tuesday. He’s shooting 69.8 percent for the season, making 74 of 106. As Calipari noted, that figure needs to improve.

Tuesday night, however, it didn’t matter. Tuesday, Fox was just what Kentucky needed.

De’Aaron Fox game-by-game this season

Date

Opponent

MP

FG

FGA

3P

3PA

FT

FTA

O

D

R

F

TP

A

TO

BS

ST

Nov. 11

S.F. Austin

30

3

9

0

2

6

6

2

2

4

3

12

12

3

0

3

Nov. 13

Canisius

33

6

13

0

3

9

9

1

3

4

1

21

3

2

0

0

Nov. 15

Mich. St.

29

3

10

0

2

6

6

0

4

4

2

12

6

3

1

1

Nov. 20

Duquesne

31

5

13

1

2

5

8

1

6

7

2

16

6

1

0

3

Nov. 23

Cleveland St.

33

6

15

0

2

4

7

0

4

4

1

16

11

2

1

2

Nov. 25

UTMartin

28

7

12

0

3

2

4

1

5

6

2

16

5

4

0

3

Nov. 28

Arizona St.

31

6

9

1

1

1

2

2

9

11

3

14

10

4

0

2

Dec. 3

UCLA

34

8

20

1

4

3

5

0

2

2

4

20

9

2

0

1

Dec. 7

Valparaiso

29

3

9

0

1

3

8

1

6

7

1

9

5

1

1

2

Dec. 11

Hofstra

24

5

8

0

1

5

5

0

5

5

3

15

2

2

0

0

Dec. 17

N. Carolina

35

9

21

0

2

6

7

0

4

4

1

24

10

2

0

2

Dec. 21

Louisville

34

7

15

1

3

6

10

0

2

2

3

21

3

4

0

2

Dec. 29

Ole Miss

23

3

10

0

2

1

3

0

5

5

2

7

7

1

0

3

Jan. 3

Texas A&M

28

5

9

0

1

5

8

1

4

5

0

15

6

3

0

2

Jan. 7

Arkansas

36

10

16

0

2

7

7

0

6

6

2

27

6

2

0

1

Jan. 10

Vanderbilt

25

11

17

0

1

0

0

0

5

5

4

22

2

1

0

1

Jan. 14

Auburn

27

6

11

1

2

0

2

1

3

4

5

13

5

1

0

1

Jan. 17

Miss. St.

36

8

15

0

3

5

9

0

5

5

0

21

5

3

0

1

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