Monk’s Defense Takes Center Stage

INDIANAPOLIS – All season Malik Monk has been known for his high-scoring games and propensity to hit big 3-point shots.

On Sunday, he did hit a big 3-pointer late, but he made his best play of the season blocking a 3-pointer.

“I was just timing his dribble,” Monk said. “I knew he was going to shoot a 3 at some point. I was just timing it. As soon as he picked it up I timed his jump shot perfect and I was able to block it.”

Leading by one point with 13 seconds left, Wichita State’s leading scorer, 6-foot-8 forward Markis McDuffie, attempted the 3-pointer from the right wing. Monk, one of the best freshman scorers in Kentucky basketball history, was there to make the block, which he deemed the biggest defensive play of his entire career.

Derek Willis corralled the loose ball and handed it to Monk, who was then fouled. The Lepanto, Arkansas, native then hit both free throws with 10.6 seconds left to give UK a three-point lead, and freshman teammate Bam Adebayo sealed the 65-62 win with a block of his own on the final possession.

“That was probably my first (big defensive play late in a game),” Monk said. “Just played solid defense. We knew they were going to shoot the 3 because that’s what they’d been doing the last five plays, and they got clean looks. But we couldn’t let them have a clean look and we just played solid.”

Monk, who entered the game with 95 3-pointers to his name, had just 14 blocks, or 0.4 blocks per game. Despite the low block totals, his teammates say they know the quick, uber-athletic guard is capable of shutting down opposing players at any time.

“We know Malik can play defense,” senior guard Dominique Hawkins said. “We’ve seen it in practice all the time. For him to make that play, it lets everybody know that he actually plays defense and he made a big play for us. That’s why we won that game at the end.”

Three possessions earlier, it was Monk who had the ball along the left wing for the Cats with redshirt-freshman guard Landry Shamet defending him. Monk took one dribble to his left and then took it between his legs. When Shamet’s hands went down, Monk’s shot went up. Buckets.

“If I’d made none in that game I was still going to shoot that one,” Monk said. “I’m a shooter. All my teammates have confidence in me that I’m going to make big-time plays, and that’s what happened.”

The shot was Monk’s second made 3-pointer of the game, and just his fifth made 3 over the past six games as he’s struggled with his shot since making five triples against Florida in late February.

Sunday’s 3-pointer with 2:10 left in the game was eerily similar to the one he made late in the game on Dec. 17 against North Carolina, which also came from the left wing. Similar to the 3-pointer against the Tar Heels, this one also was an audible called by the freshman.

“We were supposed to throw the ball to Bam, but I saw his hand was down and I knew I was going to get a clean look off him,” Monk said. “That’s what happened.”

Head coach John Calipari was just happy to see another 3-pointer drop for his dead-eyed rookie.

“It was great to have Malik back,” Coach Cal said. “Haven’t seen him for a while. He’s on that path, still not all the way back, but he’s on the path that we need him on.”

As a high school senior, Monk appreciated Coach Cal’s honesty while recruiting him. Calipari, as he does with every player he recruits, didn’t promise Monk anything except that he would be pushed if he came to Kentucky.

One of the areas where Calipari wanted to push Monk was on the defensive end. The 6-3 freshman said he’s worked the entire season on that end of the floor and the confidence he received from Coach Cal and his teammates helped him make the play.

And though it was Monk’s block that was the biggest play he made Sunday, his teammates know the offensive explosion can come at any moment as well.

“I’m proud of him,” Adebayo said. “I’m just thankful he’s my teammate. You never know. One day he might go for 47. You just never know. He might get the green light and the rim just look like an ocean. When everything is going in for him, we’re going to feed him the ball.”