Scout/Jeff Drummond

Malik Monk on scoring tear for Kentucky Wildcats, but will home state Hogs test poise?

Kentucky's Malik Monk is averaging 22.6 points per game this season, a pace that would make the freshman guard the highest-scoring Wildcat to play under John Calipari.

No defense has found a way to completely put the clamps on Monk, who has scored double figures in all of UK's 14 games to date, but he faces an opponent Saturday night that may have an unusual edge when the Cats play host to his home state Arkansas Razorbacks.

During Calipari's time at UK, it's not been uncommon for the Cats' highly-regarded freshmen to struggle in their matchups with the home state school. Kentucky and Arkansas found themselves pitted in a bitter recruiting battle for the McDonald's All-American's services that led to fans in his home state lashing out after the Bentonville High School star chose the Big Blue despite the fact that his older brother, Marcus, played for the Razorbacks.

"He and I haven’t talked about it," Calipari said Friday. "(But) when he gets too hyped, he’s not at his best. I thought when he gets too hyped, he doesn’t shoot it as well, mind starts racing a little bit. He’s not, you know, the calm, athletic, attack player he needs to be when he’s at his best.

"He and I will talk about it before the game, but right now it hasn’t been discussed.”

The 6-foot-3 shooting guard is on quite a roll of late. He's opened SEC play with 34 and 26 points, respectively, in wins over Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Four games ago, he exploded for a UK freshman-record 47 against North Carolina.

Monk has helped UK average 94 points per game and top the 100 mark five times. The Cats currently rank No. 3 nationally in offensive efficiency.

While seeing the points pile up is exciting, Calipari has attempted to keep Monk grounded by stressing there can be more to his game than just buckets.

“The best thing that he’s done is he’s transformed himself into a defensive guard – more so than he’s ever been," the UK boss said. "The second thing is he’s becoming an efficient scorer. He took 11 shots and he had 20-some points last game. He doesn’t have to take 40 shots to get 25 points. He’s not that guy.

"Now, he’s gotta take it up a notch rebounding the ball. He’s gotta go after balls. He’s gotta check out. My opinion is he should be a double-double (player) – as a guard. Like, what? Yeah. He should be a double-double (player)and it should be rebounds and points. He could be that guy, but he’s gotta focus on that."

Monk is averaging only 2.6 rebounds per game. Backcourt mates De'Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe are averaging 5.0 and 3.9, respectively. 

The UK staff is also stressing that Monk get himself to the free-throw line more often where he's an 86-percent shooter. During a three-game stretch in December, he attempted a total of four free throws combined against UCLA, Valparaiso and Hofstra. Monk has attempted 13 in his first two SEC games, making 12. 

"We’re shooting free throws in there (at practice) and the kid’s making 10 in a row, 10 in a row, 10 in a row," Calipari said. "I look at Isaiah (Briscoe) – ‘If you shot free throws.’ Isaiah was like, ‘Why won’t he get fouled?’ Like, go get fouled. If you miss two jump shots – go get fouled. Go make two free throws. ‘OK, now I’ve got it going.’ It’s all creating new habits for these guys."

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