LEXINGTON, Ky. — Only a scintillating scorer with nuclear capability like Malik Monk could divert attention away from a talent like teammate De’Aaron Fox. But when Monk suffered a rare power outage Tuesday night against Arkansas, fellow freshman Fox delivered a reminder that he is no less capable of putting the Kentucky basketball team on his back.
“Fox did a good job of controlling the game,” Razorbacks coach Mike Anderson said. “(Monk) didn’t give you the points that he normally gives you, but it came from other guys. That’s why they call it a T-E-A-M.”
Fox hit 10 of 17 shots, 7 of 7 free throws and poured in a career-high 27 points to go with 6 rebounds and six assists. Then on Monday, he won his fourth SEC Freshman of the Week award, matching the number of times No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and No. 7 pick Jamal Murray won it all of last season.
“De’Aaron Fox was ridiculous,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said after the Arkansas game.
“He’s been doing extra work. He’s been coming to practice early – not by choice – and he has really been working, and it showed in the game. I said to the guys, ‘What do you want to say to him?’ Do this every night, man. Play this way. This is who you are.”
NEXT UP: Kentucky at Vanderbilt, 7 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN
Fox is still shooting a paltry 12.9 percent from 3-point range, but when it comes to leading the break and attacking the basket, few players in America are better. The fleet Fox unleashed a flurry of blink-and-he’s-gone drives for floaters and layups against Arkansas.
“When Fox plays like this, it’s an easy win for us. All he does is shoot layups, get fouled,” freshman forward Bam Adebayo said. “They started pressing him and we were like, ‘Why would you press Fox?’ So after that, he just started shooting layups, and you’re not going to tell him to stop. We just started cheering him on and we said, ‘Keep going.’ We all just looked at each other and smiled.”
Fox credits the just-ended Camp Cal – a time between semesters when players have unlimited practice time, which Calipari converts into an intensive few weeks of training – with his latest surge in progress. It’s not as if he’s ever been bad, mind you.
He had 12 assists in his first college game and a triple-double in his seventh. He went for 24 points and 10 dimes against North Carolina in his 11th career game. He’s averaging 16.3 points, 6.7 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals at the halfway point of the regular season.
Fox has 101 assists so far, compared to 90 at the same point last season for Tyler Ulis, who went on to set a single-season school record. But Fox knows his game is not yet complete, so he’s embraced a pre-practice grind with assistant coach Kenny Payne.
“I’ve been in the gym a lot more,” he said. “I was efficient (against Arkansas), and I think it was due to that. It’s a lot of conditioning in those workouts, so I was never tired, and it showed.”
Hundreds of free throws in an empty gym also got him back on track at the line. Fox, who made his first 21 free throws of the season, had hit only 12 of 21 in the previous three games before nailing all seven tries against the Razorbacks.
“It’s been a roller coaster this year,” he said. “Just hope we’re going up more than we’re going down.”
When Fox is on, Kentucky’s trajectory is skyward. When he and Monk are both clicking, forget about it. But now the Wildcats know they can survive – thrive even, as evidenced by the 97-71 score against Arkansas – when the binge-scoring Monk misfires.
“I didn’t see it as (taking up) slack,” Fox said. “Even if he’s not making shots, teams are still going to guard him. So it’s just kind of using that as a decoy: Go his way, then I can help. Most of the time, it was one-on-one, me and my defender. And I think I’ll win that battle a lot.”