Monk’s Explosion Could Be Coming

INDIANAPOLIS – To say Malik Monk has supreme confidence as a shooter would likely be an understatement.

Monk never takes a shot he doesn’t believe should go in. And in fact, that belief even sometimes persists after one of his shots misses. Friday night, it happened a couple times.

En route to an 0-for-6 performance from 3-point range, Monk had a couple shots that seemed certain to fall against Northern Kentucky only for them to somehow rattle out.  

“They should have went in,” Monk said.

Monk drew plenty of laughs with that response, but there’s still plenty of truth behind what he was saying. He might have made only three of his last 21 3-pointers entering a second-round showdown for second-seeded Kentucky (30-5) against No. 10 Wichita State (31-4) on Sunday, but Monk doesn’t feel any differently than he did after any of the numerous hot-shooting performances he’s had this season.

“If I miss, I’m going to still shoot the same shot I did before,” Monk said. “If I make it, I’m going to shoot the same shot. I’ve just gotta keep on the same focus.”

The one exception might be some lingering soreness from last weekend’s Southeastern Conference Tournament championship vs. Arkansas. 

“Well, he didn't practice this week because he had a lower back, butt bruise, whatever you want to call it,” Calipari said. “He didn't practice for two days.”

Monk said he got “banged up” in the Arkansas game, but that didn’t stop him from logging 34 minutes in UK’s first-round win over NKU on Friday night. Shots weren’t falling from outside, but Monk made 3-of-5 tries from 2-point range and 6-of-7 free throws. 

“He drove the ball,” John Calipari said. “He made free throws. Because you're not going to be on every game, so you just don't take 12 3s, then. You're not on today. Get the ball to the basket, get fouled, take 2s.”

The thing about Monk is those driving lanes will always be open. Opponents, no matter how many times he misses from deep, aren’t going to stop playing him there. He is closing in on 100 made 3-pointers this season, after all.

“Even if he’s going through a shooting slump teams are still going to jump at all his pump fakes, teams are still going to guard him,” De’Aaron Fox said. “It still kind of helps us out. But he also does things that he doesn’t always have to score. He still helps us out when he’s not putting the ball in the basket.”

That point is proven by the fact that UK has played some of its best basketball during Monk’s mini-slump, reeling its winning streak to 12 games. Only Wichita State’s 16-game run is longer among active streaks.

That’s not to say the Cats don’t want Monk to find his rhythm again. Add a version of Monk hot like he was against North Carolina, Georgia or Florida and the second half and UK quickly becomes an even scarier team.

“Very different as a team when he’s going like that,” Dominique Hawkins said. “We play through him all the time. Our first few shots go to Malik. If Malik gets it going we’re a great team and if he’s not we’ll find somebody else to go to.”

UK has plenty of players capable of stepping up if its leading scorer happens to be cold, but the Cats know better than to assume that will be necessary. Derek Willis, for one, knows Monk could be just one make away from going off.

“The statement he made earlier in the year about if he sees one shot go in then it’s going to be like every shot’s going to go in, that’s really true,” Willis said. “You see one go in and it gives you that little confidence boost to keep shooting and all that. As a shooter, you keep shooting. No one, I think, is going to tell him not to shoot on the team. So we’re confident in him. He’s definitely confident in himself and we’re all pulling for him.”

That ticking you hear? It might just be Monk on the verge of exploding.

“He'll break out at some point because he's too talented, and he's got a great spirit about him,” Calipari said.