What happened for Malik Monk in Vegas, stayed in Vegas.
The freshman guard was a point-making machine in Sin City. In the Derby City, playing a few furlongs from Churchill Downs, Monk bounced like a thoroughbred that runs his best race and then, in his next start, finishes up the track.
Louisville held Monk to only 16 points, some 31 fewer than he put up last Saturday, in the 73-70 win over Kentucky, delivering to Rick Pitino just his second victory in 10 meetings with a John Calipari-coached UK squad.
If UK-UNC was a work of art, a masterpiece, this one had all the precision of cave drawings and yet, it sizzled.
Kentucky shot just 39.7 percent to Louisville’s 43. The Wildcats missed 10 of 29 free throws. Monk was 6-of-17 from the floor (1-of-9 from beyond the arc) and still, the Cats had a triple in the air at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
A few second earlier Monk, who had missed his first seven attempts at a trey, launched number eight from somewhere near the Ohio River and buried it with 10 ticks remaining left to pull his team to within a point.
The Cards hit two free throws at the other end; after a timeout the Cats worked it to Monk who got a good look at the shot that might have tied it. He got front iron instead, and Pitino exhaled as he walked to midcourt to shake hands with Calipari.
Nobody expected Monk to match the number he posted against the Tarheels although in the opening possessions of the game it seemed the Cardinals were willing to let him try. No sooner would Louisville bury a bucket, the Wildcats would snatch it out of the net, make one pass, make one dribble and make one basket.
Then Monk was forced to leave the party less than eight minutes into the game with his second foul, only six points on his worksheet and his team struggling. He no sooner had planted himself on a Yum! Center chair than the Cards completed a 10-0 run and took their first lead at 22-20.
It would stretch to a 15-2 run, Louisville easing off to a 29-22 advantage. Cardinal fans were feeling Yummy, until the Wildcats answered with a 9-0 run of their own. Game on. And on, and on…
They might not have matched the point production Kentucky and North Carolina mustered in Vegas but all the fun was there, and then some as the Cats played their first true road game of the season before a house full of fans who, well, hated them.
At times, they looked like a team that is precisely as young as their birth certificates say they are and still led it, 40-39 at recess.
The UK fouls kept piling up, though, almost as quickly as missed shots. Monk managed to avoid his third foul until the 10-minute mark. Isaiah Briscoe wasn’t so fortunate. Eleven seconds into the second half he picked up his second; within the next seven minutes he had two more and headed for the bench with four. De’Aaron Fox was carrying three at the time.
And somehow, the Cats kept scoring. So did the Cards.
It was their home-grown point guard, Quentin Snyder, who picked the perfect night for the game of his life. The former Ballard High School star doubled his scoring average with a game-high 22, mixing jump shots with drives that left UK defenders nailed to the unfriendly floor. He out-Monked Monk.
Calipari talked to the TV camera at halftime about youth and the residual lack of discipline and he talked about it after the game as well. “Thank goodness it’s December 21st,” he said.
He has a lot of time to teach his young team about how to guard and, just as importantly, how to find their big man, Bam Adebayo, in the paint. “Any time we had a huddle, I talked about it,” Calipari said.
That’s because good things often happened when Adebayo set up shop near the bucket. Lost in the disappointment of their first road loss was a fine collection of savage, rim-threatening dunks. But Bam scored just 11 points, hitting on 5-of-6. That’s in 35 minutes, friends. Unfortunately, he missed five of six free throws, too.
“It’s a great win for them. They’ll have a better Christmas than us,” Calipari said in the media room after the game. No laughs.
“No one laughs? What, is everybody mourning? Are these all our fans? No Louisville fans here?” he asked.
Nope. Just reporters on deadline, anxious to tell the story of a game that might not have been an artistic triumph, compared to what we all witnessed four days ago. But it was exciting. And fun to watch.