Mike Anderson was adamant earlier this week. Saturday night wasn’t Malik Monk vs the state of Arkansas. It was Arkansas-Kentucky.
Turns out, he was right.
Monk, the Bentonville product who spurned the Razorbacks for the land of bluegrass during recruiting last year, did almost nothing of consequence in the game Saturday night. Monk could have been pulled from Kentucky’s roster and the outcome wouldn’t have changed a bit. Problem is, that outcome was a Wildcats win, 97-71.
Arkansas – the team, not the state – did what it needed to to limit Kentucky’s leading scorer and likely NBA lottery pick. Monk had just 12 points in 27 minutes. What the Razorbacks couldn’t do is stop De’Aaron Fox and Derek Willis. Kentucky’s point guard, Fox, went for 27. Willis, who was the best player when the teams met last year in Bud Walton Arena, had 15 on a 6 of 8 shooting.
Arkansas had its moments, starting better than it usually does. The team just didn’t finish like it has most of the year. One of the only teams in the country who play at a faster pace than Arkansas took advantage of it in the late moments, the same way the Razorbacks do against most everyone else. Kentucky’s lead at halftime was three points, 41-38, it stretched to as many as 26 points – the final margin – as Arkansas looked out of sync for stretches.
Most of it was desperations. Arkansas pressed when the deficit hit 13 or so. Forced shots, missed block outs; too many times Arkansas tried to force the issue and get up and go. It played right into Kentucky’s hands.
The loss drops Arkansas to the bottom half of the SEC, but far from out of things. They’ve played already the two best teams in the league – Florida and Kentucky – and face neither of them again this season.
And the madness is over. No other game will mean as much to fans as Saturday’s. Now it can all be focused on racking up wins and making the NCAA Tournament. Not on some measure of atonement.
Stat line of the game
De’Aaron Fox was unstoppable.
He had 27 points on 10 of 16 shooting, six rebounds and six assists. It was the best single-game performance anyone has had against Arkansas this year.
Arkansas trailed by just three at the break. Something happened after. Kentucky stepped on the gas or Arkansas backed off. Or both. The game wasn’t as lopsided as the final score made it appear, but it was wasn’t as close as the break suggested, either.
vs Mississippi State
Tuesday, January 10
Mississippi State’s best player is Little Rock Parkview graduate IJ Ready. Odds people boo him? Small.