LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It seemed destined to fall.
Malik Monk’s magical shooting touch had failed him for 40 minutes but the stroke that surged him to a 47-point night against North Carolina was still the same. But as the ball bounced off the iron Monk turned back down the court with a grimace as a raucous, red-clad crowd shook the KFC Yum! Center.
“That was the first option, and that’s the option that we liked,” fellow freshman De’Aaron Fox said after Kentucky’s 73-70 loss to Louisville.
The Wildcats (10-2) know who their go-to option is even if he was 6 of 16 from the field before the shot. Everyone in the building knew Monk would receive the ball when Kentucky needed a game tying 3-pointer.
It didn’t matter that Monk was 1 for 8 behind the arc before the final heave.
“We believe in Malik like Malik believes in us,” freshman Bam Adebayo said. “So anytime a shot goes up for him, we think it’s going in.”
But the long-range attempt went the way of so many others for Monk and Kentucky on Wednesday night. The Louisville defense clipped Kentucky’s wings and forced the Wildcats into the half court where any gulfs in athleticism between the two teams were narrowed.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino said he was worried about the drive and dish from Isaiah Briscoe. Fox’s speed was a concern of his as was running Derek Willis off the 3-point line.
But Monk was the threat. And as Kentucky keyed on him, so did Louisville.
“We shadowed him,” Pitino said. “We tried to deny him. Every time he came off a screen we said ‘Let’s keep the ball out of his hands.’ I felt he was going to drive a little more tonight because guys, when he comes off a 47-point game, knows people are going to get in his jock.”
The flashy freshman was forced into bad shots by the rugged Cardinals defense and coach John Calipari was sent another reminder of his team’s youth. The Kentucky coach had to tell himself and any disappointed Kentucky fans that the calendar reads Dec. 21.
Calipari wasn’t as disappointed in Monk’s shooting results as he was with other areas of Monk’s game.
“It’s okay to be 1 of 9,” the coach said. “Go rebound and defend.”
But the final miss told a lot about Kentucky. Monk is its guy and it doesn’t matter if he’s on his way to a 47-point performance or a dud of a night from deep.
“There were other options, but we’re going to live and die with Malik taking a shot,” Fox said.