Sidelines with John Clay

Kentucky basketball’s win over Florida and more Big Blue Links

Kentucky’s Dominique Hawkins dives for the ball ahead of Florida’s Kevarrius Hayes during the first half of UK’s 76-66 win over Florida at Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY on Saturday, Feb.25, 2017.
Kentucky’s Dominique Hawkins dives for the ball ahead of Florida’s Kevarrius Hayes during the first half of UK’s 76-66 win over Florida at Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY on Saturday, Feb.25, 2017. Lexington Herald-Leader

Big Blue Links for Sunday:

Malik Monk turns it on in the second half. Jerry Tipton of the Herald-Leader writes, “Monk’s signature style in surely his only UK season paved the way in a 76-66 victory over Florida. An explosion of points thrilled a packed Rupp Arena, made the absence of point guard De’Aaron Fox to a bruised knee incidental and assured Kentucky sole possession of first place in the Southeastern Conference with a week to go in the regular season.”

A reducing Bam Adebayo is producing better results. Mark Story of the Herald-Leader writes, “A true child of Dixie, Bam Adebayo loves his fried food. ‘From the South, (I love) all the soul food,’ the Little Washington, N.C., product said. It tells you how much Kentucky’s 6-foot-10 center wants his freshman year to end on a high note that he has given up the foods he loves most.”

Cats took the fight to the Gators. My column says, “That’s all John Calipari wants. He wants to win, of course, and he wants to hug his guys in the NBA green room after they’ve been drafted, and despite what you might think he also likes the feel of that national championship ring on his finger. As a fighter himself, however, Calipari wants nothing more than to be able so say his team fought.”

Kentucky women hope to score another Top 10 upset. Jennifer Smith of the Herald-Leader writes, “It seemed unlikely in early February when Kentucky lost by double digits at home to South Carolina, but the Cats are the hottest team in the Southeastern Conference. Kentucky has won five in a row since that loss to the No. 7 Gamecocks, including an upset, overtime victory over third-ranked Mississippi State on Thursday night.”

Is Monk worthy of Wooden Award? Ask Florida. Rick Bozich of WDRB writes, “Nominations for the 15 finalists for the John Wooden Award are due Monday. Only 14 spots remain open on my ballot for college basketball’s best player. On Saturday at Rupp Arena, Malik Monk showed Kentucky, Florida, a national television audience, Wooden Award voters, the Academy Awards and anybody else paying attention that he can overwhelm an opposing defense.”

Florida sees its nine-game win streak snapped. Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun reports, “But ultimately, Kentucky rose to the challenge in the high-stakes game by playing physical on the boards and more engaged on the defensive end of the floor. And when uber-talented UK freshman guard Malik Monk found his offensive rhythm in the second half, there was little the foul-plagued Gators could do to stop him.”

Still figurning out UK? You’re not alone. Fletcher Page writes, “Scrappy isn’t always pretty, so doubt was permitted through the break. The score did give Calipari peace of mind, though. ‘That means you’re fighting,’ he said. ‘That means you’re giving yourself a chance to win.’”

Monk’s monster second half was the key. Alex Forkner of the Cats Pause writes, “After an ice cold start, Monk went nuclear in the second half, powering Kentucky’s offense with 30 of the Cats’ 48 points after intermission. Florida took a 52-44 lead with 12:42 to play, but Monk promptly answered with a 3-pointer. After a two-handed slam by Monk that tied the game at 55, Bam Adebayo reclaimed the lead for Kentucky with two free throws. The Gators would never get back in front, as the Cats outscored Florida 32-14 down the stretch.”

Monk too much for the Gators. Chris Harry of UF Athletics writes, “When it was over, the Cats had hit 13 of their last 18 field-goal attempts, three of their last four 3-pointers and 10 of their last 11 free throws against one of the best defenses in the country. And without Fox, their pending one-and-done, NBA-bound point guard. It was Florida’s 51st loss at Lexington in 60 trips.”

Kentucky proves it’s still team to beat in SEC. Keith Taylor of KyForward writes, “Kentucky was without starting point guard De’Aaron Fox, who sat out because of a knee contusion, but teammate Malik Monk picked up the slack and became the first Kentucky freshman to score at least 30 points in four games in a single season. Monk scored 33 points, including 30 in the second half as the Wildcats overcame a sluggish start with a impressive finish down the stretch.”

South Carolina crushes Tennessee. David Cloninger of The State reports, “The Gamecocks stretched a four-point lead to 19 in a sizzling second-half run on Saturday, beating Tennessee 82-55 to snap a three-game losing streak and restore their hopes for the NCAA Tournament. Having frittered away most of a 15-point lead, once again refusing to do the things that earned that lead, USC (21-8, 11-5 SEC) halted the Volunteers’ rally just in time.”

Vanderbilt keeps NCAA hopes alive. Chip Cirillo of the AP reports, “Vanderbilt developed a simple game plan in the second half: Get the ball to Jeff Roberson. The 6-foot-6 forward from Houston posted career highs with 23 points and five 3-pointers as the Commodores extended their longest winning streak of the season to four games with a 77-48 rout of Mississippi State on Saturday.”

No. 1 Gonzaga loses bid for a perfect regular season. Jay Drew of the Salt Lake Tribune writes, “BYU basketball coach Dave Rose has said all season that this young, inexperienced Cougar team will drive him nuts one minute, then do some exciting things the next. Saturday night was definitely the latter. BYU pulled off one of the biggest upsets in school history, surprising No. 1-ranked Gonzaga 79-71 in front of 6,000 crestfallen fans at sold-out McCarthey Athletic Center.”

Duke falls to Miami. Jessika Morgan of the Raleigh News and Observer writes, “No. 10 Duke fell to Miami for the third time in the last six meetings on Saturday. Miami’s Bruce Brown nailed two free throws and scored off an inbounds pass in the final minute to seal a 55-50 win for the Hurricanes (20-8, 10-6 ACC), who’ve won four straight.”

Pelicans fall to 0-2 with Davis and Cousins. reports, “After a very evenly played game for three-plus quarters Saturday, Dallas finally created some breathing room late, pulling away from New Orleans for a division victory. The Pelicans dropped to 0-2 since acquiring three-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, struggling with some of the same shooting and turnover problems that plagued them Thursday vs. Houston. New Orleans shot just 39.7 percent from the field and coughed up 20 turnovers, exactly the same number it committed against the Rockets, and one shy of its season high.”

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