The No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats (28-5, 16-2 SEC) will face the Arkansas Razorbacks Sunday after grinding out a gritty 79-74 victory on Saturday over the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The slow starts that UK had seemed to break away from came roaring back, as the Cats found themselves ice cold from the field and in a 17-7 deficit. However, that lead wouldn’t last long because, as expected, Malik Monk wasn’t going to be quiet for a third game in a row. The freshman registered 13 points in the first half alone and helped UK in an 11-0 run that would allow Kentucky to climb out of their early hole. Kentucky remained in the lead for most of the rest of the half, and led at the break 33-32.
Kentucky looked like they were ready to pull away from the Tide early in the second half after grabbing its biggest lead of the game at 51-42, but Bama would not go down without a fight. The Tide started chipping away at the Cats’ lead, and UK found themselves in a one possession game with a little under 4 minutes to play, holding just a 64-61 lead. It was at this point that freshman De’Aaron Fox decided to take over.
“I just kept getting the plays and they kept the ball in my hands,” Fox said. “When I know the coach is trusting me and my teammates are trusting me to keep attacking, doing what you’re doing, all I’ve got to do is just make the play.”
Fox scored nine straight points for the Wildcats, converting on some critical and-ones and calmly knocking down some late free throws. At the end of the day, the freshman had recorded a new career-high with 28 points.
Malik Monk finally seemed to break out of his recent shooting slump, as he poured in 20 points on 6-14 shooting and 2-5 from three. Bam Adebayo added 10 points for the Cats and pulled down nine rebounds. UK will need to continue its hot shooting Sunday as they prepare to face an Arkansas squad that has won eight of its last nine games, including a 14-point beat-down over a Vanderbilt team that defeated Florida the night prior.
Kentucky will have its hands full on the defensive end, as four Razorbacks are averaging double-digit scoring, highlighted by senior guard Dusty Hannahs. UK will have to limit Arkansas’ ability to score, as they are very capable of scoring in bunches if they’re left open.
For the Cats, Kentucky is looking to win its third-straight SEC Championship, and fifth under head coach John Calipari. The Razorbacks are pursuing just their second SEC title, and are making their second appearance in the title game in the last three years.