As if scoring, rebounding, defending and setting a competitive tone was not enough, Isaiah Briscoe contributes to this season’s Kentucky basketball team in another way. He brings out the best in teammate Mychal Mulder.
“I feel Isaiah, he’s one of the guys who’s been rooting for me since the beginning,” Mulder said after UK beat Valparaiso on Wednesday. “As a team, we’re all so close. But you have those guys that you look out for sometimes. Maybe you need somebody like that, and I feel that’s probably Isaiah for me. He seems to look out for me when we get in the game together. He always seems to try to get me going a little bit.”
UK Coach John Calipari has noticed as he mulls over setting up a consistent player rotation going forward.
“What I want to do is have him and Isaiah on the court together because Isaiah makes Mychal comfortable,” Calipari said. “Isaiah figures out ways of getting him shots he can make, and Isaiah will talk to him through defense and help him.”
Maybe more than ever Mulder needed that support after not playing against UCLA on Saturday. He denied that the UCLA game served as motivation against Valpo.
“I don’t make that kind of decision, you know what I mean?” Mulder said of not playing against UCLA. “If (Calipari) thought the matchup just wasn’t good … , that’s his choice to make, and I respect that.”
But in Briscoe, Mulder said he has a friend and a one-man support group.
“He seems to root for me and believe in me,” Mulder said. “He wants me to excel.”
Briscoe gives other players the same kind of support, Mulder said.
“He’s a great friend to have,” Mulder said. “Somebody you really want in your corner.”
Dom sets tone
Early in UK’s 21-0 breakout run, senior Dominique Hawkins entered the game. In this case, A plus B equaled C.
“Dom goes in and just changed the whole complexion because of how he defended on the ball,” Calipari said. “He kind of disrupted what they were doing offensively.”
Calipari credited Hawkins’ defense as a factor in Valpo point guard Lexus Williams picking up two fouls barely two minutes into the game. Williams finished with two points and five turnovers in 15 minutes.
“He’s a pest,” Mulder said of Hawkins. “He’s an elite, elite defender, and I feel that’s one of the best aspects of his game. …
“Plays that stand out from the Bahamas, it’s Dom’s defensive energy plays. It’s not exciting alley-oop plays. When you watch Dom play defense, you know he takes pride in that. He knows that’s what keeps him on the floor.”
A first for UK
Malik Monk led a balanced attack with 15 points. Bam Adebayo added 16 points, while Derek Willis scored 12 and Briscoe 10.
For the first time this season when all were healthy, one of UK’s trio of star guards did not score double-digit points. De’Aaron Fox had nine points, while also grabbing seven rebounds and being credited with five assists.
According to UK’s seating chart, 21 of the 30 NBA teams had seats reserved for the game.
Portland and Sacramento led the way with three seats each. Detroit and Indiana had two seats each.
Other teams with seats were Toronto, Chicago, Charlotte, Cleveland, Denver, Golden State, Houston, the Clippers, the Lakers, Milwaukee, Minnesota, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Utah and Washington.
Valparaiso expected Kentucky to make containing Alec Peters a priority.
“It’s been that way for three years now,” Coach Matt Lottich said before the game. “I don’t anticipate him to approach it any differently. … Alec just finds a way. We try to scheme stuff for him a little bit, but it comes down to players making plays.”
Peters welcomed increased attention from defenses.
“If they focus solely on me, we have other guys who can step up,” he said.
Calipari saluted Peters’ energy. “The minute you let up, the minute we backed up, he scored,” the UK coach said. “He’s that good.”
▪ Hawkins made a season-high two three-pointers. Derek Willis matched his season high with two. That helped compensate for Malik Monk’s 1-for-5 shooting from beyond the arc. Going into the game, UK players other than Monk had made only 28.4 percent of their three-point shots.
▪ Until Lottich took over this year, a Drew coached Valpo’s team every season dating back to 1988.
▪ Shane Hammink, a transfer from LSU, made one of three three-point shots. He had been 2-for-22 from that range.
Kentucky vs. Hofstra
What: Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival
Where: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
When: 3 p.m. Sunday