BOZICH | Is Kentucky's Malik Monk Wooden Award worthy? Ask Florida
Without De'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk had to do everything for Kentucky against Florida Saturday -- and Monk delivered 30 of his 33 points in the second half of a 76-66 win.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – Nominations for the 15 finalists for the John Wooden Award are due Monday. Only 14 spots remain open on my ballot for college basketball's best player.
On Saturday at Rupp Arena, Malik Monk showed Kentucky, Florida, a national television audience, Wooden Award voters, the Academy Awards and anybody else paying attention that he can overwhelm an opposing defense.
Are there better all-around players? Probably. Is there anybody who score as ferociously as Monk can score? I haven't seen one. Monk is the 2016 version of Buddy Hield.
Monk made his point that he belongs among the Wooden finalists. In fact, he made 33 of them -- 30 in the second half, carrying Kentucky past Florida, 76-66, on a day the Wildcats were without De'Aaron Fox, UK's other talented freshman guard. (Fox has a sore knee.)
"Oh, he got 30 in a half?" UK coach John Calipari asked.
Yes, sir. Eight second-half baskets, four from distance. Three points in the first-half, 10 times that in the second.
"No wonder when I got on him about a couple of bad shots, he looked at me like I was crazy," Calipari said.
Drives. Jumpers. Pull-ups. Free throws. In traffic. Hands in his face. Late in the shot clock. Don’t forget a trio of lob passes to Bam Adebayo for slam dunks.
Florida coach White tried everybody on his roster to slow Monk. Chris Chiozza. Kasey Hill. KeVaughn Allen.
White needed Joakim Noah.
It was the Complete Malik Monk collection, the one that has put his name among the top 10 prospects for the 2017 NBA Draft.
"He took the game over," White said. "He was amazing. It was probably the best performance against us all year."
It was such a spectacular performance that Monk was asked if it was a finer performance than the 47 points he hung on North Carolina or the 37 he put on Georgia. It was the first time a Calipari player has scored 30 in a half at UK.
"I didn't know (about the 30) until after the game," Monk said. "I felt normal."
That is the thing about Monk, who is 6 feet 2 inches of unbridled confidence. He can score so relentlessly that it's not false modesty when he says that a 30-point half felt normal.
His first half was forgettable in nearly every way. Five turnovers. One basket. No trips to the foul line. One assist. Calipari was not pleased.
"I thought I was going to be off," Monk said.
Here is what changed in the second half. Calipari ordered Monk to stop settling for jump shots and attack the rim. On Kentucky's first possession in the final 20 minutes, Monk slashed past Florida defender Justin Leon from the left wing. He scored. Beware.
His next two points came from the foul line. When Florida defenders backed off, Monk made a three. Then another. When Florida defenders crowded him, Monk attacked again for an eight footer. Without Fox dominating the basketball, Monk created more of his own opportunities.
"He got about anything he wanted to get whenever he wanted to get it," White said. "He was better even than his 33."
Even Monk needed help. Center Bam Adebayo also earned a bonus ovation. He finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds. Like Fox, Adebayo was assertive. It showed in the final rebounding numbers. In Gainesville, Florida out-rebounded Kentucky by 25 and won by 22. In Rupp. UK out-rebounded the Gators by 18 and won by 10.
One home game remains – Tuesday at 9 p.m. against Vanderbilt, a team the Wildcats defeated by six points in Nashville last month. Three UK seniors will be honored – Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins and Mulder.
The Wildcats will finish SEC play on the road with Texas A&M next Saturday. Florida gets Arkansas in Gainesville before visiting Vanderbilt.
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