MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Kentucky and North Carolina staged one of best college basketball games of the season on Dec. 17 in Las Vegas. The Wildcats won a shootout, 103-100, thanks to Malik Monk’s 47 points and the game-winning 3-pointer, which were just enough to counter Justin Jackson’s 34 points for the Tar Heels.
We can only hope the sequel on Sunday comes close in the drama department. Without a doubt, though, the stakes will be significantly higher in this one: a trip to the Final Four is on the line. On the eve of the rematch, SEC Country spoke to players on both sides to reconstruct Round 1 and look ahead to Round 2:
Monk was 18 of 28 overall and 8 of 12 from 3-point land against UNC. Sometimes streaky, Monk has never been more dialed in than on that night in Vegas. Seated in front of a bank of microphones almost 100 days later, the freshman tried to explain how big the basket looked.
Malik Monk: “Like this table. Probably like this table.”
Derek Willis: “I’ve never seen a kid just annihilate a pick-and-roll like that. He can go for 50 whenever he wants, I feel like. It was one of those games where we needed him to do that for us, and he stepped up and did his thing. Maybe it’s like that again tomorrow. We’ll see.”
Isaac Humphries: “We say on the bench all the time, ‘Once he’s made two or three, it’s over.’ It’s over for him anyway. He just keeps going: bang, bang, bang.”
Tai Wynyard: “When he shoots and it hits nothing but net, if he hits two of them, the next one’s going in, the next one’s going in, the next one’s going in. You watch the game you’re like, ‘Oh my God this kid is great.’ Every shot he takes it’s going to go in. It’s crazy.”
A man down
North Carolina was without starting forward Theo Pinson in its first matchup with Kentucky.
Kennedy Meeks: “We talked about this a couple times. Maybe if Theo was playing, Malik only has 30 points and we still win the game. That’s just the type of effect that he has. Even though all of us get tired sometimes, I think he’s definitely one of the best defenders, and I think he does a great job of coming in the game and giving us a lift.”
Theo Pinson: “I don’t think there was much that was going to stop him that night. He was unbelievable. He’s jumping over (defenders), shooting right over them. They did as much as they could to at least be there as much as they could to affect him. But I think just my length, I (could) just try to bother him a little bit, not try to do anything more or anything less, just try to make it tough on him every time he gets the ball.”
With Kentucky trailing by 2, Monk launched a contested 3-pointer to put the Cats up 1 with 22 seconds left. It ended up being the game winner.
Malik Monk: “I just knew I had to make a shot. The 3 was open, so I shot it.”
Isaac Humphries: “I remember (coach John Calipari) saying to drive and I remember (Monk) shooting it and it going in. It was not a big deal anymore once it went in.”
Derek Willis: “I definitely heard Cal. He was screaming, ‘Drive the ball,’ or whatever he was saying. (Monk) just let it go — type of dude he is. He’s got confidence in himself and he’s made for big moments.”
Isaiah Briscoe: “Any time that I watch that little clip or whatever, I always tell Malik, ‘What if you missed that? Just what if?’ And my heart will start beating real fast.”
Jonny David: “It was crazy. It was one of those things that you had to wake up the next morning like, ‘That really happened?’ And then you have to check Twitter and all that stuff. And it happened.”
Malik Monk would like to place an order for ONIONS! https://t.co/ZIBubpcOkP
— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) December 18, 2016
What to expect in Round 2?
Kentucky and North Carolina will tip off at 5:05 p.m. ET Sunday with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
De’Aaron Fox: “Last time, Malik had 50. We can’t depend on him doing that again. That December game, it was no defense in that game.”
Isaiah Briscoe: “Hopefully the score isn’t in the 100s. We’re gonna try to slow them down in transition and stuff like that. Our defense has been great. Everyone’s been talking, everyone’s been locked in and focused on defense and it’s been showing.”
Dominique Hawkins: “It’s gonna be a fast game. Both teams, we both like to push it up and down the court and score in a hurry.”
Malik Monk: “(The first game) was high scoring. We can’t let it get like that anymore.”