MEMPHIS, Tenn. — De’Aaron Fox broke an NCAA Tournament record against UCLA, but more important for Kentucky’s future, fellow freshman Malik Monk broke out of his slump.
The “S” word is one Monk never used to describe his recent string of shooting woes. Senior guard Mychal Mulder never associated Monk and slump either. But the sharpshooter was firing blanks prior to Friday night. Monk was 18 of 54 (33 percent) from the field and 5 of 22 (23 percent) from 3-point range in his first five postseason games dating back to the SEC Tournament.
After going 3 of 11 in the first round against Northern Kentucky and 3 of 10 against Wichita State, Monk went 8 of 17 and 4 of 9 from 3-point land against UCLA to help propel the Cats to the Elite Eight.
“I feel like we’re unstoppable if he’s hitting,” senior guard Dominique Hawkins said.
It was Monk’s outing that backed up Fox’s center stage performance. Fox’s 39 points set an NCAA Tournament freshman scoring record. He delivered a knockout blow in the Fox vs. Lonzo Ball bout. But Monk’s perimeter shooting opened wide lanes for Fox.
“Don’t nobody leave me,” Monk said. “I tell him to come to my side of the floor if he wants to score.”
And the slashing Fox, shooting Monk and senior contributions between Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins is what makes Kentucky maddening in March for opponents.
Up next is North Carolina in the Elite Eight. The Wildcats and Tar Heels will tip off at 5:05 p.m. ET in Memphis on Friday. It’s a rematch of Kentucky’s 103-100 win in December — a night where Monk exploded for 47 points.
He showed glimpses of the fire catching ability Friday night, a possible prequel to the North Carolina showdown.
“People want to say a lot of stuff when he misses, and write stories and all that,” Mulder said. “Everybody in the country knows that Malik’s an elite scorer. When we have him scoring the basketball at a high rate like that alongside Fox, and just being great on defense, we’re pretty hard to beat.”
And just as Monk stayed quiet when his shot wasn’t working, he did the same during Friday night’s game.
“He didn’t say nothing,” Hawkins said. “He just smiles. When he starts smiling, that’s a good sign.”