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Monk’s breakthrough performance leads second-ranked Kentucky past Michigan State

By Keith Taylor
KyForward senior sports writer

Kentucky passed its first test of the year with ease Tuesday night.

Malik Monk scored a career-high 23 points to lead the second-ranked Wildcats to a 69-48 victory over No. 13 Michigan State. Monk sank a career-high six 3-pointers on 11 attempts as three players reached double figures for the Wildcats (3-0) who improved to 4-2 in the State Farm Champions Classic.

Malik Monk scored 23 points in UK's win over Michigan State Tuesday night (UK Athletics Photo)

Malik Monk scored 23 points in UK’s win over Michigan State Tuesday night (UK Athletics Photo)

Kentucky coach John Calipari knew Monk was in for a breakthrough performance following the team’s walkthrough prior to Tuesday’s contest.

“He had an unbelievable shootaround today,” he said. “I’ve done this for 30 years. We had two other players on the team that had so-so shootarounds and, guess what? They had so-so games. And it was a great lesson because getting him and De’Aaron (Fox) to not be casual … these guys play casual, they practice casual and that’s what we’ve got to teach them. You can’t be. You’ve got to have another habit.

“They’ve got to create a habit of really getting after it. Malik Monk had one of the best shootarounds that any of my players have had in the past few years and I expected he would go in and go play well.”

Building on his hot hand during pregame workouts, Monk wasn’t fazed by the hype surrounding Kentucky’s first outing of the season against a ranked opponent.

“I was the top player in Arkansas, so every game was packed for me,” he said. “I had a lot of adversity because I committed to Kentucky. I’m used to a lot of fans and ‘ooohs’ and all that stuff. Adversity, I’m used to all that.”

Monk, who also grabbed six rebounds, became the third freshman in school history to hit at least seven 3-pointers in a game, a feat matched by former Kentucky standouts Jamal Murray and Doron Lamb.

“We knew they were going to pack the lane in because Fox and Briscoe get in the lane every time they can, so, I just had to be prepared,” Monk said. “They set me up well and I was just able to knock down the shots.”

LINK: BOXSCORE — Kentucky 69, Michigan State 48

Isaiah Briscoe tied a career-high with 21 points. Briscoe has scored double figures in each of his first three games and made all five of his attempts from the free-throw line. De’Aaron Fox rounded out three players in double figures with 12 points and six assists.

Read More at Keith's Blog

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

Briscoe wasn’t surprised by Monk’s performance and said the team’s freshmen class handled the showdown with ease.

“Malik hasn’t been shooting the ball as well as I know he can (and) I knew he was due for a big game,” Briscoe said. “Fox came up big down the stretch. Bam (Adebayo) played well. All the freshmen, like I said, they don’t play like ordinary freshmen. I’m comfortable with them out there on the court and I wouldn’t trade those guys for anybody.”

Monk led the Wildcats with 14 points in the first half as Kentucky limited the Spartans to just 26 points in the opening half.

“We’ve gotten better but we’re still not where we need to be,” Calipari said. “What happened is these guys took some pride defensively. And some of it – Michigan State, they run some great stuff and they [isolate] and do things that forced us to prepare beyond where we are.”

Moving on up: Calipari passed Louisville coach Rick Pitino for third place in most victories at UK with his 220th victory. He needs 44 more to pass Tubby Smith, who won 263 games during his tenure as coach of the Wildcats.

Gametracker: Duquesene at Kentucky, 9 p.m., Sunday. 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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