INDIANAPOLIS — There was just enough extra funk on De’Aaron Fox’s two dunks in the final four minutes of Kentucky’s narrow win over Wichita State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday that they could be interpreted as statement slams.
“Take it how you want,” Fox said afterward. “I know I’m going to have to start dunking it to kind of send a message to a big man. They wouldn’t even jump after I dunked the first one, so I know I gotta start getting on the rim.”
In this case, the big man was 6-foot-8, 265-pound Shockers center Shaquille Morris, who had stood over Fox and scowled after blocking his layup attempt in the first half. Fox missed more than one layup try Sunday and decided to change his approach.
“Everybody (says) I’m too athletic to not be dunking the ball,” said the 6-3 Fox, who is perhaps the fastest point guard in America. “I’ll be like, ‘Yo, I’m gonna start dunking,’ then I get to the basket and finesse something. Today, I wasn’t making my layups and in the second half I was like, ‘Let’s not miss these. Let’s just go dunk it.’ ”
So when Kentucky’s lead was just four with 4:23 to go against Wichita State, Fox sank a free throw, stepped into a passing lane, swiped a steal and soared for a huge slam. And when the Shockers cut the deficit to two with 1:55 remaining, Fox blew by Landry Shamet at the top of the key and took flight again.
The hulking Morris wheeled around from his man in time to contest the dunk, but he elected never to leave his feet and Fox flushed the left-handed dunk with a little extra gusto. He’d only dunked 14 times all season — compared to a school-record 94 slams by teammate Bam Adebayo.
De’Aaron Fox looking to close this thing out ? pic.twitter.com/EnvpswM0TG
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 19, 2017
“I know that’s the mentality I have to come in with the rest of the season,” Fox said.
Kentucky will need its star freshman to be more aggressive than ever in Friday night’s Sweet 16 showdown with UCLA and its dazzling point guard, Lonzo Ball. The Bruins won a regular-season meeting with the Wildcats in December, but Fox and Ball battled to basically a draw.
Fox dominated the first half, Ball the second, and they finished with comparable stat lines: 20 points, 9 assists, 2 turnovers for Fox; 14 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds and 6 turnovers for Ball. Fox is suddenly playing his best basketball, though, averaging 19.7 points over the last six games — the regular-season finale and postseason.