LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Malik Monk's latest offensive explosion may have delivered another SEC championship for the Kentucky Wildcats.
The freshman guard scored 30 of his game-high 33 points in the second half Saturday as No. 11 Kentucky defeated No. 13 Florida 76-66 to claim sole possession of first place atop the league standings with only two regular season games remaining. If the Cats defeat Vanderbilt on Tuesday night at Rupp Arena, they will clinch the No. 1 seed for the SEC Tournament and the 48th league title in program history.
All of that looked like a slim possibility on numerous occasions Saturday as Florida raced to an 18-6 lead and, after UK tied the game at 28 going into halftime, pushed the lead back to eight once again in the second half.
But the Gators had no answer for Monk's hot hand. The Arkansas native scored 19 of UK's first 23 points to start the second half on a variety of drives to the basket, pull-up jumpers and 3-pointers.
"He took the game over. He was amazing. It was probably the best performance against us all year," Florida head coach Mike White said of Monk, who finished 9-of-18 from the field, 5-of-7 from 3-point range and 10-of-11 at the free-throw line.
Monk said he didn't realize he had 30 in the half.
"I didn’t know that until after the game," he said. "I was just playing, but it was crazy."
Kentucky (24-5, 14-2 SEC) also got a huge effort from freshman center Bam Adebayo, who kept the Cats close in the first half with his inside presence and strong rebounding. He finished with 18 points and a game-high 15 rebounds as UK won the battle on the glass 48-30 after being crushed 54-29 in the rebound column in their 88-66 loss on Feb. 4 at Florida.
The Cats played without freshman point guard De'Aaron Fox, who suffered a severely bruised knee in Tuesday night's win at Missouri and did not practice the rest of the week. In his place, senior Dominique Hawkins provided a stat-stuffing line of three points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Florida (23-6, 13-3 SEC) was led by sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen with 24 points, including a 5-for-11 shooting day from beyond the arc. But the rest of the Gators combined to shoot only 31 percent. Senior guard Kasey Hill was held to four points on 2-for-10 shooting.
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the game...
WHAT WE LIKED:
Kentucky's loss in Gainesville drew disappointment from Big Blue Nation, not so much because Florida won the game, but due to how little fight the Cats displayed throughout the contest. After getting outrebounded by 25 and allowing a virtual layup line to the basket in the first matchup, UK turned the tables on the Gators in the rematch. The Cats crushed Florida 48-30 on the glass and held the Gators to only 36.6 percent from the field.
Malik Monk, Kentucky -- One could make a strong case for Bam Adebayo here, who had six points and 10 rebounds in the first half alone to help keep UK from getting blown out early. Without his efforts, Monk doesn't even get a chance to provide the heroics in the second half. That being said, when a guy goes nuclear hot and scores 30 in a half to give the Cats a crucial late-season win, he gets the nod. (But hear this, league office: Adebayo better get SEC Player of the Week honors after posting 40 points and 30 rebounds in two wins this week.)
BY THE NUMBERS:
1st - Career start for UK's Mychal Mulder, who got the nod in place of injured De'Aaron Fox.
4 - Thirty-point games for Malik Monk, the most by a freshman in UK history.
12.5 - Bam Adebayo's rebound average over the last four games.
14-0 - Cats' record when holding the opponent to under 43 percent from the field.
20-2 - UK record when outrebounding the opponent this season.
100th - Win for UK in the all-time series against Florida against 38 losses.
"If we're this team, I like what I'm seeing." -- UK head coach John Calipari.
Kentucky returns to action Tuesday night at Rupp Arena against Vanderbilt. The Commodores (16-13, 9-7 SEC) routed Mississippi State 77-48 on Saturday in Nashville. It will be Senior Night for the Wildcats' Dominique Hawkins, Derek Willis and Mychal Mudler. Tipoff is slated for 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.