Isaiah Briscoe had no major complaints about his play in the November-December portion of the 2016-17 Kentucky basketball season.
“I’m pleased with it,” he said before adding, “It can always be better. There’s always room for improvement.”
When asked what he’d want to work on, Briscoe said, “Still my shooting. That’s really it.”
Of course, shooting improvement was a primary reason Briscoe returned to UK for his sophomore season. He shot poorly from three-point range (13.5 percent) and the foul line (46 percent) last season.
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In the preseason, UK Coach John Calipari set goals for Briscoe: 30 percent or better on three-pointers, 68 percent on free throws.
The season’s transition to conference play finds Briscoe exceeding the goal on free throws. He made 70.6 percent of his free throws (36 of 51). He’s close to meeting the three-point goal by making five of 18 (27.8 percent).
Free throws and three-pointers present two distinct challenges. The first brings a halt to the action and is basketball’s version of solitaire. The latter must be performed in the flow of the game with no time to find comfort in a routine.
“They’re totally two different things,” Briscoe said. “Free throws are free. You go at your own pace. I’ve still got to work on my three-point shot.”
Calipari also saw free throws and three-pointers as different challenges. Free throws, he said, are about confidence. Three-pointers involve preparing to shoot before the ball arrives.
“He’s getting better,” Calipari said of Briscoe’s three-point shooting. “You can’t aim it. You’ve just got to let it go.”
Turning the corner
When asked if “Camp Cal” was helping UK’s freshmen turn a metaphorical corner, Briscoe said, “I think they’ve been turning the corner since the beginning. I don’t think they play like regular freshmen.
“They are players I can count on in the game. So I feel they have been turning the corner.”
Briscoe said he did not need the four-day break that came with Christmas. But someone else did.
“Coach definitely needed one,” he said. “He’s always told us that. Right after the (Louisville) game, he left.”
UK equals credibility
Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy agreed with a reporter’s suggestion that a victory over Kentucky will bring instant credibility to other Southeastern Conference teams.
“I know our guys came back excited because Kentucky brings that,” he said. “SEC opener. National TV. Against one of the best teams in the country.
“It’s the program by which you judge all others. They’re the gold standard.”
Besides No. 8 Kentucky, the only other ranked SEC team is No. 25 Florida.
A victory over UK is “going to resonate throughout the course of the season,” Kennedy said, “because they’ll be one of the last men standing.”
Three years in a row
Ole Miss opens SEC play against Kentucky for a third straight season. UK hasn’t played in Oxford since 2014, which prompted Kennedy to quip, “I texted Cal: ‘You must have really (ticked) off somebody in the league office because they finally sent you back to Oxford.’”
Facing Kentucky concentrated Kennedy’s mind. He said he started thinking about UK “right after the last (Christmas) present was opened.”
The process, as coaches like to call team development, applies to Ole Miss. Kennedy has been trying to incorporate six new players into a cohesive team.
“I was a little overly optimistic thinking the transition of blending old with new would come about more easily than it has,” he said.
Kennedy set rebounding and shooting accuracy as keys against UK.
Ole Miss forward Sebastian Saiz averages 12.1 rebounds, the highest average of any SEC player. UK and Ole Miss rank first and second among SEC teams in rebound margin.
“So the battle of the boards is going to be huge,” Kennedy said.
▪ Ole Miss is opening SEC play at home for only the fifth time in the last 19 years.
▪ The media picked Ole Miss to finish ninth in the SEC race. The Rebels have finished better than the media predicted in each of the last five seasons.
▪ Ole Miss’s victory over Bradley on Dec. 19 moved Kennedy past former UK coach Rick Pitino in career coaching victories for an SEC school. Kennedy is in 19th place on the list with 221 victories. Calipari is 18th with 227 victories.
▪ Bob Wischusen and Jay Bilas will call the game for ESPN2.