Kenny Williams spent the most time defending Malik Monk on Saturday – or trying to defend him, perhaps is a better way to put it. Joel Berry tried. Brandon Robinson, for a brief time. Roy Williams, the North Carolina coach, tried to do what he could do from the bench, which wasn't much.
It didn't matter which North Carolina player was guarding Monk, the Kentucky freshman guard, and it didn't matter what Roy Williams tried to impart on those players. Monk simply had his way, regardless, and that was true early and late and during most moments in between.
“He got hot,” Kenny Williams said of Monk.
“And once he was hot,” Berry said, “it was hard to stop him.”
They were understatements, both, but trying to describe what Monk did against UNC on Saturday was sort of like trying to defend him: it was something of a useless endeavor, built to fail. The numbers told a more complete story.
Monk finished with 47 points and made 18 of his 28 attempts from the field. He made eight of his 12 3-point attempts, and two of those 3s came during the final 81 seconds – the second of which, with 22 seconds remaining, gave the Wildcats a lead that they didn't relinquish.
How rare was a performance like this against the Tar Heels? Consider that on Saturday they played their 2,959th game in school history. Only one of them has ended with a player scoring more points against them than Monk did at T-Mobile Arena.
That was Duke's Dick Groat, who scored 48 points in a game in Cameron Indoor Stadium in 1952. Sixty-four years have passed without anyone surpassing Groat's total against the Tar Heels, but Monk came as close as anybody ever has.
His 47 points were tied for second-most against UNC. Georgia Tech's Rich Yunkus also scored that many against the Tar Heels in a game in Charlotte in 1970.
This wasn't the first time that Monk had dazzled in front of Roy Williams. It happened before, Williams said, while he watched Monk play at the Peach Jam, a Nike high school basketball recruiting showcase in North Augusta, S.C.
“I thought he was a heck of a player,” Williams said. “Loved him, tried to recruit him, and didn't feel like we were going to get him. But he put on a show.”
Monk scored 27 of his points during the first 20 minutes. He scored 15 points during the first 8 ½ minutes and, by then, he was on his way.
Monk found freedom in the Wildcats offense thanks to an array of screens, sometimes as many as three or four per possession, Kenny Williams said. Even when Monk was well defended it didn't matter all that much, anyway.
“I don't think we did a good job of making him uncomfortable,” Berry said. “And I think that's why he was able to get as hot as he did. That's on us. We just can't let a player like that beat us. I mean, at one point he had almost half of their points.”
Monk's prolificity helped Kentucky make 54.1 percent of its shots. The Tar Heels, who shot 53 percent from the field, weren't bad themselves, and the teams combined for another rarity: it was the fourth game in UNC history in which both teams finished regulation with at least 100 points.
For Kentucky, Monk finished with nearly half of those. He missed his first 3-pointer but made his second – and didn't often miss after that, leaving the Tar Heels at a loss of what to do defensively, and with inadequate words to describe what they'd witnessed.