Arkansas native Monk leads No. 6 Kentucky vs. Razorbacks (Jan 6, 2017)

Saturday’s game in Lexington between Arkansas and No. 6 Kentucky is already huge considering the fierce rivalry dates back to the early 1990s and has provided some of the most epic battles in Southeastern Conference history.

But this time around, there is a delicious twist. Freshman Malik Monk, Kentucky’s leading scorer, is a native of Lepanto and spurned the home state Razorbacks.

“Arkansas always tries to get the in-state kids, every big-time in-state kid,” Monk said.

At least he knows what to expect. Monk was a 15-year-old inside Bud Walton Arena in 2013 when fans welcomed home another Arkansas-born Kentucky freshman – Archie Goodwin – with a resounding chorus of boos.

“He didn’t go there. I see why they were mad,” Monk said. “That’s just Arkansas fans being loyal to Arkansas. That’s nothing against us, that’s them just being loyal.”

Monk understood Goodwin’s decision to attend Kentucky then, and echoes it today.

“It was the best decision for him,” Monk said. “And of course, for me, too.”

Fortunately for Monk, he will get to face Arkansas at Rupp Arena where 24,000 fans will have his back. But he knows Razorback fans will be watching and wondering what might have been.

“Heartbreaking, sad that I didn’t go there,” Monk said. “But we’re just playing basketball. I’m living my life and doing fine and having fun.”

On Thursday, Arkansas coach Mike Anderson admitted to some disappointment that Monk didn’t stay home.

“I’ve (known) Malik since he was in the eighth grade,” Anderson said. “I was disappointed we didn’t get him here, but that’s his decision. But he’s a great, great kid. We all knew he would be a great player.”

Playing basketball might be a challenge, too. Monk admits he must guard against trying too hard to impress the folks back home.

“That’s a big thing,” Monk said. “I have to keep my mind focused on the game and not get off on other stuff.”

The game features the two teams with the best overall records in the league. Both are 12-2, but No. 6-ranked Kentucky is also 2-0 in SEC play while Arkansas is 1-1.

The Wildcats have crushed two SEC foes, winning 99-76 at Ole Miss and 100-58 over Texas A&M at home. Arkansas, meanwhile, lost at home to Florida, 81-72, but went on the road and beat Tennessee, 82-78.

Kentucky averages 94.0 points per game and has topped 100 points in five of its 14 games to date. The 94 points rank No. 2 in the nation.

The Wildcats are paced by Monk at 22.6 points per game, making him the highest scoring freshman in the country. Next comes freshman guard De’Aaron Fox at 15.6 points, sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe at 15.3 and freshman forward Bam Adebayo at 13.2 points and a team best 7.4 rebounds.

Arkansas, which averages 82.6 points per game, is led by Dusty Hannahs at 14.5 points per game. Next comes Daryl Macon at 14.0 and Moses Kingsley at 11.1 and a team best 8.8 rebounds. Jaylen Barford is a tick under double figures scoring at 9.9 points per game.