By Tony Acree Malik Monk of the Kentucky Wildcats put on a magic show in Las Vegas during UK’s 103-100 win over the North Carolina that Penn and Teller would be proud to watch. Monk scored a Division I season high of 47 points, and in the process smashed the previous Kentucky freshman scoring record of 35, held by both Jamal Murray and Terrance Jones. Monk scored in every possible way, from high arching three pointers to contortionist level layups around the basket. How insane was his night? Monk had a new career high at the end of the first half with 27 points.
Monk’s effort was the jewel in a royal rumble from two of college basketball’s blue bloods. Both teams roared up and down the floor in a game not for the faint of heart. Kentucky’s outstanding point guard, De’Aaron Fox, tallied his fourth double-double with a career high 24 points and 10 assists. Bam Adebayo and Isaiah Briscoe rounded out the double figure numbers for UK with 13 and 10 respectively.
UNC also shined in the loss. Justin Jackson was a beast for the Tar Heels and Kentucky had no answer for him with Jackson recording 34 points for a new career high, with 10 points coming from the charity stripe. Fellow Tar Heel Joel Berry II showed no ill effects in returning to action after missing two games with a sprained ankle, pouring in 23. UNC big man Kennedy Meeks tossed in 12 before fouling out, and Luke May scored 11 and Isaiah Hicks 10.
Kentucky led for a majority of the game, until North Carolina took the lead with less than two minutes to go on a Justin Jackson three pointer, putting the young Cats on their heels. Then the magic man, Malik Monk, rose into the air and drained a three pointer of his own to tie the game. After yet another basket by Jackson gave Carolina a two point lead with less than 30 seconds to go, Monk once again had the ball in his hands with his head coach, John Calipari, yelling for him to drive to the basket. Monk ignored his coach, lifted into the air and swished yet another three, his eighth on the night.
It was hard to believe this was a regular season match up in December, with both teams playing like Final Four teams. What happens in Vegas normally stays in Vegas, but this game will have seeding implications for the NCAA tournament in March. How will Kentucky follow up this instant classic? By playing their most intense rival, Louisville, in the Yum Center on Wednesday.