LEXINGTON, Ky. – When Malik Monk said yes to Kentucky basketball and no to his home-state Arkansas Razorbacks, he knew it wouldn’t go over great. He grew up in Lepanto, Ark., and played his high school ball 25 miles from the Hogs’ campus. His older brother Marcus had played both football and basketball at Arkansas.
Monk was supposed to stay home and be a star, but instead the McDonald’s All-American chose the Wildcats and their reputation for nurturing NBA dreams. Predictably, he was heckled on social media and howled at – even more than usual – in opposing gyms during his senior season at Bentonville High. So now, as the Razorbacks visit Kentucky at Rupp Arena today, Monk is thankful the game isn’t back home.
“I won’t get booed as much,” he said. “But seeing how much they’d boo me, I think that would be fun, too. But I’ll never see that.”
Because the Wildcats won’t play at Arkansas this season, and Monk surely won’t be back as a sophomore next year. He leads all freshmen nationally in points per game (22.6) and 3-pointers made (49), and he’s a projected top-10 pick in the next draft. Razorbacks coach Mike Anderson is painfully aware.
“Of course, a young man that comes from Arkansas is leading them in scoring,” he said this week. “Malik, we know all about him. We recruited him. I’ve been knowing him since he was in the the eighth grade. Obviously disappointed we didn’t get him here, but that was his decision. But he’s a great, great kid. We all knew he was going to be a great, great player.”
One danger Kentucky coach John Calipari will be watching for: Monk trying too hard to put on a show against the Hogs.
“When he gets too hyped, he’s not at his best,” Calipari said. “When he gets too hyped, he doesn’t shoot it as well, mind starts racing a little bit. He’s not the calm, athletic, attack player that he needs to be when he’s at his best. He and I will talk about it before the game.”
Kentucky basketball vs. Arkansas game time, details
Date: Saturday, Jan. 7
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Rupp Arena (23,000), Lexington, Ky.
Vegas line: Kentucky by 16 ½
What TV channel is Kentucky basketball vs. Arkansas on?
The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network (DirecTV channel 611, DISH channel 404/408, AT&T U-verse channel 607/1607 HD).
How can I watch Kentucky basketball vs. Arkansas online?
Who is calling the Kentucky basketball game vs. Arkansas?
Play-by-play by Dave Neal, analysis by Jon Sundvold, sideline reporting by Tara Petrolino.
How can I listen to Kentucky basketball vs. Ole Miss?
Play-by-play by Tom Leach, analysis by Mike Pratt on Sirius 83, XM 190 and AM-630 (in Lexington).
No. 6 Kentucky (12-2, 2-0 SEC)
G-De’Aaron Fox (6-3, Fr.): 15.6 ppg, 6.8 apg, 5.0 rpg
G-Malik Monk (6-3, Fr.): 22.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.0 apg
G-Isaiah Briscoe (6-3, So.): 15.3 ppg, 4.4 apg, 3.9 rpg
F-Wenyen Gabriel (6-9, Fr.): 5.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.2 apg
F-Bam Adebayo (6-10, Fr.): 13.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.9 bpg
TOP RESERVES – F Derek Willis, 6-9, Sr., 6.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.0 bpg; C Isaac Humphries, 7-0, So., 3.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.0 bpg; G Mychal Mulder, 6-4, Sr., 7.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg; G Dominique Hawkins, 6-0, Sr., 3.1 ppg, 2.4 apg, 1.6 rpg.
Arkansas (12-2, 1-1 SEC)
G-Daryl Macon (6-3, Jr.): 14.0 ppg, 3.1 apg, 1.5 spg
G-Dusty Hannahs (6-3, Sr.): 14.5 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.3 apg
G-Manuale Watkins (6-3, Sr.): 5.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.1 apg
F-Dustin Thomas (6-8, Jr.): 6.6 pgg, 4.2 rpg, 1.5 apg
F-Moses Kingsley (6-10, Sr.): 11.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 3.0 bpg
TOP RESERVES – G Anton Beard, 6-0, Jr., 9.6 ppg, 2.3 apg; G Jaylen Barford, 6-3, Jr., 9.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.1 apg; G C.J. Jones, 6-5, Fr., 4.8 ppg; F Arlando Cook, 6-8, Jr., 3.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg.
* Storied rivalry: “It’s Arkansas-Kentucky. You need to say no more.” The Razorbacks and Wildcats waged some memorable battles in the early 1990s, playing seven times when both teams were ranked in the top 15 (twice when both were in the top 5). More recently, Arkansas has been the rare opponent Calipari struggled to beat. From 2011-14, Kentucky lost 4 of 5 to the Hogs, but the Cats have bounced back with three consecutive victories in the series – all by at least 14 points.
Still, Calipari is just 8-6 against Arkansas, and Anderson’s team is suddenly on a roll away from home. The Razorbacks have won three straight SEC road games and are looking to make it four in a row for the first time since 1994-95. Kentucky’s last conference loss at Rupp was on Feb. 27, 2014 … against Arkansas. The Cats have won 20 straight SEC home games since.
* Quick-hook Calipari: Trust has been the Kentucky coach’s buzzword lately. He’s drilling players with the idea that their teammates must be able to trust them to do their job, and he’s reinforcing it with a quick hook. “If they don’t dive on the floor for a loose ball, they’re out. If they get beat for a rebound because they’re not checking out – or they just get beat – you’re out,” he said. “If you’re breaking down on your defensive assignments, you’re going to come out. Short of that, you’re in. It’s not missed shots, it’s not turnovers. It’s do your job. … If you can’t do your job, someone else will do it.”
* Shoot it higher, Briscoe: After the Texas A&M game Tuesday, Calipari bemoaned how often Briscoe is getting his shot blocked in the lane this season. Last year, he was an uncanny finisher inside. “Why didn’t he get shots blocked last year? We did he avoid and make shots?” Calipari said. “Because he didn’t get to the foul line.” He was a 46 percent free-throw shooter then. He’s shooting 74 percent from the line this season. “Now he’s like, ‘OK, I’m going to go in there and throw my body at this guy and get him to foul me and not worry about how high I’m shooting the ball, because I’m making free throws.’ ”
The problem with that is he’s not getting rejected more often than his coach can tolerate, so Briscoe suddenly finds himself practicing high-arching floaters over an assistant holding a long, padded stick.
“Dude, you’re getting blocks that we should be getting baskets, and in a close game, we can’t afford it,” Calipari said. “This isn’t brain surgery that I do. Watch this one: Shoot it higher. It might go in, it might not. And if you miss it, we will rebound it and score. ‘Yeah, but I missed it. I’d rather try to get it blocked.’ You’re going to get it higher.
“If he shoots it low off the backboard in practice, I’m stopping it now because I’m really focused on seeing it. ‘Well, that’s a change from what I do.’ Come on, stop. Just shoot it higher.”