Three takeaways from Kentucky’s 97-71 win over Arkansas:
1. C’mon man, you don’t press De’Aaron Fox
Malik Monk, the Arkansas native, struggled against his home-state school on Saturday night, missing all five of his three points shots, scoring just 12 points in 27 minutes. It was the first time this season that the freshman failed to swish the nets from three.
No big deal, thanks to his backcourt mate De’Aaron Fox, who sped around and through and past Arkansas’ fullcourt, trapping defense on the way to a game-high 27 points and six assists in the Cats’ 26-point win.
“De’Aaron Fox was ridiculous,” said UK coach John Calipari afterward.
Asked how UK pulled away from the Razorbacks, Bam Adebayo said, “They started pressing Fox.”
Fox admitted afterward that his eyes lit up when the Razorbacks tried to press him in the backcourt. Not that this was a surprise. That’s the way Mike Anderson’s teams have always played and always will play.
“One thing about us,” Anderson said afterward, “we’re not going to hold the ball.”
Still, that’s probably not the greatest strategy against someone was quick and adept at handling the all as Fox. He committed just two turnovers in what was an up-and-down game. He also made 10 of 16 shots and was a perfect seven-of-seven at the foul line.
According to Calipari, Fox’s teammates said afterward, “Do this every night, man. This is who you are.”
2. The Hogs got a little rough, but that’s ok
The second half, especially when Kentucky started to pull away after leading by just three at the break, things got physical and more than a little chippy. Arkansas’ Jaylen Barford appeared to step on Isaiah Briscoe when the UK sophomore was laying on the floor. Fox intervened and Barford and Fox both ended up receiving double technical fouls.
Barford told Rick Bozich of WDRB, “It was just a play in the game that just happened. I didn’t mean to step on him.”
Asked if Briscoe thought he did it on purpose, Barford said, “I don’t know what he thought but I didn’t do it on purpose.”
A few minutes later, down on the other end of the floor, there were more nose-to-nose encounters and talk when Bam Adebayo appeared to get hit in the face by the Razorbacks’ Moses Kingsley.
Calipari came all the way out on the floor to try and separate the two teams and admonish his team for entering into the fray. Once he saw Calipari out there, Anderson came out on the floor, as well.
“Games are going to get heated, they’re going to get testy,” Calipari said. “We do not respond. That’s how we are. These kids are so young, their first reaction is they get bumped or pushed, they want to push back. You can’t. You put your arms up and you walk away. It was a great lesson.”
It was a great lesson. Other teams are going to try and play physical with Kentucky. It’s going to happen. And this young team must learn how to respond.
3. Derek Willis can make a difference
We’ve been harping on the forward spot being shared between senior Derek Willis and freshman Wenyen Gabriel, the one starting position outside UK’s core four of Adebayo, Monk, Fox and Briscoe.
Saturday, Willis looked like he was ready to take over the position. The veteran was six-of-eight from the floor, including three-of-five from three-point range. He had 15 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots in 19 minutes on the floor. He also picked it up on the defensive end.
“Last year he haunted us at Bud Walton Arena and he tonight he haunted us as well,” Anderson said. “He’s one of those stretch guys – and it just seems like I go watch games and he don’t shoot it like that – but when the Razorbacks show up, he lights it up.”
Indeed, last year Willis scored 12 points in UK’s 80-67 win in Fayetteville.
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