LEXINGTON, Ky. – Malik Monk doesn’t lay many eggs, but when he did Saturday night against his home-state team, Kentucky basketball still found a way to beat Arkansas comfortably. Point guard De’Aaron Fox led the charge and senior forward Derek Willis provided a boost off the bench as the sixth-ranked Wildcats rolled to a 97-71 win at Rupp Arena.
Monk, who’d scored 60 points in his first two SEC games and came in averaging 22.6 for the season, had just two points at halftime and finished with 12. A native of Lepanto, Ark., who played high school ball 25 minutes from Arkansas’ campus, Monk missed all five 3-pointers he attempted, marking the first game in his college career without making one.
But Fox and Willis combined for 42 points and sophomore point guard Isaiah Briscoe went for 15 points and 8 rebounds, and that was more than enough for Kentucky (13-2, 3-0 SEC) to overcome an off night by its superstar.
The Razorbacks (12-3, 1-2) came looking for a fight and almost literally got one. They stayed close for a half – down 41-38 at the break – in a game that was chippy throughout, featuring 51 combined fouls, and nearly brought the two teams to blows more than once.
Player of the game
Fox was spectacular, seeming to sense that Monk didn’t have it from the outside and thus attacking inside. He hit driving layups, floaters and high-flying dunks on his way to a career-high 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting – he was also a perfect 7 of 7 from the free-throw line – plus 6 assists and 6 rebounds. It has to be encouraging for the Cats to know that, unlike the Louisville game, their offense can thrive even when Monk misfires.
Stat line of the game
Willis snapped out of his shooting slump in a big way against the Razorbacks. The same guy who hit 50 percent of his 3-pointers in SEC play last season was 3 for 14 from beyond the arc in the previous three games before Saturday. Then Willis swished his first five shots – including three 3-pointers – against Arkansas. He finished 6 of 8 with 15 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks in 19 minutes off the bench.
Kentucky trailed 24-20 with 8:04 to go in the first half, struggling to get in a groove thanks to a liberal whistle and almost no contribution from its leading scorer, Monk. But then the Cats unleashed a 12-0 run to seize control, ignited by a three-point play from Fox and seven points from Briscoe, who also had a sweet wrap-around pass on the baseline the led to a bucket. Arkansas never tied or led the game again.
What’s next for Kentucky basketball
The Wildcats play at Vanderbilt (8-7, 2-1) Tuesday at 7 p.m. on ESPN before returning home to host Auburn (10-5, 0-3) on Saturday at 4 on ESPN.
Kentucky vs. Arkansas box score