MEMPHIS, Tenn. – There were three projected lottery picks on the floor Friday night when second-seeded Kentucky and third-seeded UCLA staged a rematch in the Sweet 16. The Wildcats had two of them, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, and they ran circles around Bruins star Lonzo Ball.
Those two combined for 60 points to Ball’s 10 and Kentucky advanced to its sixth Elite Eight in eight seasons under coach John Calipari with an 86-75 victory over UCLA, which delivered satisfying revenge for the Bruins’ December win at Rupp Arena.
Now it’s on to Sunday’s showdown with No. 1 seed North Carolina, another rematch. Calipari and the Cats won a 103-100 shootout with the Tar Heels in Las Vegas on Dec. 17. Monk poured in 47 points and the winning 3-pointer that day, while UNC’s Justin Jackson dropped 34.
Player of the game
Do we even need to say it? Fox absolutely dominated Ball and the Bruins, pouring in a career-high 39 points (his previous high was 28 just three games ago). Monk kept Ball on roller skates, blowing by and getting to the rim at will. He hit 13 of 20 shots, 13 of 15 free throws, had 4 assists, 3 rebounds and only a single turnover. It was a virtuoso performance that might’ve made Fox a few million dollars. Draft Express had Ball projected No. 2 overall in the 2017 NBA draft and Fox going No. 6.
Stat line of the game
Malik Monk was stuck in a six-game slump that looked like it might grow to seven on Friday night. He’d averaged just 11.8 points and hit only 5 of 26 3-pointers in those previous six games, then opened the Sweet 16 just 1 of 4 from the field and 0 for 2 from deep. Then Nuclear Monk returned with a vengeance.
When he swished a deep 3-pointer with 2:02 to go in the first half, a Kentucky-heavy crowd roared. It felt like a breakthrough, maybe, and boy was it. Monk scored 15 points in the next seven minutes of game clock, unleashing a flurry early in the second half. He finished 4 of 9 from 3-point range and poured in 21 points. He’s back.
Even after Monk’s barrage, UCLA slashed the deficit to four points with 8:51 to play. That’s when the homegrown Kentucky boys showed up. Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis swished back-to-back threes and the lead was back to eight in a blink. Willis had been 1 for 9 shooting and just 1 of 6 from deep. Willis and Hawkins, two in-state seniors, combined to hit five 3-pointers and score 19 points.
What’s next for Kentucky basketball
The Wildcats get yet another rematch, this time with the top-seeded Tar Heels in Sunday’s Elite Eight. Kentucky is playing for its 18th Final Four appearance (and ninth national title), while the Heels, last year’s NCAA runners-up, are looking for a 20th Final Four and sixth championship.
Kentucky vs. UCLA box score