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Keith Taylor: Usually cool and casual, UK guard Fox shows his tough side in win over Arkansas

De’Aaron Fox wasn’t his usual self Saturday night and that was a good thing for sixth-ranked Kentucky.

Fox scored a career-high 27 points to lead the Wildcats to a 97-71 rout of Arkansas, a performance that proved to be a deserving accomplishment for the freshman point guard who has spent more time on the practice floor, whether it was mandatory or voluntarily since “Camp Cal” began more than a month ago.

Kentucky guard De'Aaron Fox makes a move between two defenders in UK's win over Arkansas Saturday night at Rupp Arena (Bill Thiry Photo)

Kentucky guard De’Aaron Fox makes a move between two defenders in UK’s win over Arkansas Saturday night at Rupp Arena (Bill Thiry Photo)

“De’Aaron Fox (was) ridiculous,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “He’s been doing extra work. He’s been coming to practice early, not by choice, and he has really been working and it showed in the game.”

The extra time at the Joe Craft Center gave Fox a chance to work on his free-throw shooting and polish other aspects of his game. Fox was flawless against the Razorbacks and made all seven free throw attempts and just missed six field goals on 16 attempts.

BOXSCORE: Kentucky 97, Arkansas 71

Fox cited a lack of discipline and being too casual as a big reason behind his struggles at the foul line prior to his breakthrough Saturday night and said getting to a point of consistency has “just been a roller coaster ride.”

“It’s just a mindset,” Fox said. “Sometimes I’m not locked in. Sometimes I’m just on the court, just out there sometimes. Casual. Today, I was locked in the whole game and I think people saw it.”

The performance was a much-needed lift the Wildcats needed after leading scorer Malik Monk struggled against his hometown Razorbacks. Monk scored the first bucket and dished the first assist for the Wildcats, but didn’t reach double figures until the second half. For the first time this season, Monk, who finished with 12 points, failed to make a 3-pointer.

The decision by Arkansas to shut down Monk opened the door for Fox, who used his quickness to create an advantage on his drives to the basket.

“Even if (Malik’s) not making shots teams are still going to guard him, so (we) just kind of use him as a decoy,” Fox said. “(You) go his way, they’re not going to help. Most of the time it was one-on-one, me and my defender. I think I’ll win that battle a lot.”

Read More at Keith's Blog

Read More at Keith’s Blog: Out of the Blue

When things got chippy between the two teams in the second half, Fox came to the defense of teammate Isaiah Briscoe in the second half after Briscoe took a charge from Jaylen Barford. Following the play, replays showed Barford allegedly stomping Briscoe in the chest with his foot. Fox and Barford received a double technical following the play.

Fox said the incident was “nothing serious” and “I have my guys back and I know they have mine.”

“(It was) just guys out there playing with emotion,” he said. “At the end of the day you want that.”

And it’s the kind of game Fox said will prove to be beneficial for the Wildcats as they delve deeper into conference play.

“Sometimes they’ll think freshmen aren’t ready to play hard and bang,” he said. “Some scouting reports are just be physical with a younger team, but we’re just showing teams we can play physical too. You see those guys, everybody’s big. It’s different from the high school game, but I think we’ve adjusted to the physicality. I think we’ve been playing well through it.”

Calipari wasn’t surprised by his team’s ability to handle the Razorbacks’ aggressive style of play and added the contest, which featured 51 personal fouls, was a valuable teaching moment for his young squad.

“My team won’t be bullied,” the Kentucky coach said. “This isn’t that kind of team. The issue is it gets you more focused, sharper, and more disciplined. That’s what good teams are. You’re not going to bully us into a loss. That’s not how these kids — you think about who is on this team. So they’ll fight back.”

Now that he’s hitting his stride, Fox wants to gain more confidence going into Tuesday’s game at Vanderbilt.

“Today I went out and I got to the basket when I wanted to,” Fox said. “For us, it was just that. Just go out and play your game, not worry about what other people are doing, what other people are saying. Today it happened. I was 10 for 16. That’s what it said. And I made my free throws. Honestly, it was just putting the work in and just seeing how it was going to pay off.”

Gametracker: Kentucky at Vanderbilt, 7 p.m., Tuesday. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 FM WBUL.

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter

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