Kentucky's freshman shooting guard delivered what his head coach described as one of the best pregame shoot-around sessions that he has ever witnessed in preparation for the No. 2 Wildcats' matchup with No. 13 Michigan State at Madison Square Garden.
Monk carried that over into the game, knocking down 7 of 11 shots from beyond the 3-point arc en route to a career-high 23 points in UK's 69-48 win over the Spartans.
"He had an unbelievable shoot-around today," Calipari said. "And it was a great lesson because getting him and De’Aaaron (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 shoot-arounds that any of my players have had in the past few years, and I expected he would go in and go play well."
The Cats' three-man starting backcourt of Monk, Fox and Isaiah Briscoe accounted for 56 of UK's 69 points. Briscoe matched his career high with 21 points, while Fox added 12 points and six assists.
Kentucky (3-0) passed its first test on a schedule that will challenge the young Cats with several marquee matchups this season. In addition to the strong backcourt play, UK's team defense was suffocating. The Spartans were held to 32.8 percent from the floor and committed 20 turnovers leading to 24 points for the Cats.
"Well, I’m actually a little embarrassed," Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. "I felt like we competed defensively for the most part, we just didn’t do anything offensively. We looked like a team that was an AAU team; just went one-on-one, didn’t move the ball, got frustrated. I think some of it was that we were a little fatigued, and I think John (Calipari) did a hell of a job. I do think that is one of his better defensive teams. They did a very good job.”
The Spartans (0-2) were led by Kenny Goins and Cassius Winston with nine points apiece. Highly touted freshman forward Miles Bridges, a one-time UK recruit, was held to six points on 2-for-11 shooting and turned the ball over nine times, but also pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds and blocked three shots.
In this All Wildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the game...
WHAT WE LIKED:
Kentucky beat a quality opponent in decisive fashion without playing its best game. The Cats shot only 38.3 percent from the floor, saw everyone not named Monk miss all 10 of their 3-point attempts, and were out-rebounded by four but still found a way to win by 21. Starting center Bam Adebayo and starting forward Derek Willis combined for only six points and seven rebounds and turned the ball over six times. The bench produced only seven points. All of that tells us that UK is pretty good right now, but nowhere near as good as it will be later in the season.
Malik Monk, Kentucky -- The McDonald's All-American from Bentonville, Ark., came into the game struggling to find his potent 3-point stroke. He had missed nine of the first 12 that he attempted in UK's first two games. On Tuesday, Big Blue Nation got a glimpse of the explosive firepower that Monk brings to the table when he's in the proverbial zone. He also contributed with six rebounds.
BY THE NUMBERS:
0 - Michigan State players in double-figure scoring.
2 - Consecutive games with a pair of 20-plus scorers for UK.
4-2 - Cats' record in six Champions Classic appearances.
17 - UK assists on 23 made baskets.
21 of 21 - Fox's free-throw shooting on the season.
36-13 - Cats' all-time record in Madison Square Garden.
64-0 - Kentucky's record with Calipari when holding opponents under 55 points.
"We’ve gotten better. But we’re still not where we need to be. 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." -- UK head coach John Calipari on the Cats' defensive improvement from the first two games.
Kentucky returns to action Sunday at Rupp Arena against Duquesne. Game time is 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.