A career-high three three-point baskets against Texas A&M Tuesday validated the emphasis Kentucky leader Isaiah Briscoe has put on improving as a perimeter shooter. That made him 5-for-5 from beyond the arc in UK’s last four games, startling improvement for a player who made only five (of 37) three-point shots last season.
“Oh, it felt good,” he said of his shooting against A&M. “I work hard on my jumper. I work hard, period. I was due for a good shooting game.”
Coaches being coaches, John Calipari saluted Briscoe’s improved shooting. But the Kentucky coach saw another area in need of improvement.
“He’s still getting too many shots blocked,” Calipari said. “I’m telling him he’s leading the nation in shots blocked. Not blocked shots.”
Reporters in the post-game news conference laughed at this good-natured jab.
Briscoe smiled, but defended himself.
“Yeah, it happened,” he said of getting a few shots around the basket blocked. “One game. It’s one game.”
When a reporter suggested that Briscoe had had shots blocked in other games, enough to be noticeable, he again defended himself.
“I’m shooting – what? – 55 percent from the field,” he said. (Actually 51.9 percent.) “How many shots are getting blocked?! I’m just saying. They’re talking about shots getting blocked like I’m not shooting almost 60 percent from the field.”
When asked how Briscoe could get fewer of his shots around the basket blocked, Calipari said, “Shoot it higher. ... I told him, ‘Don’t get it blocked. Shoot it higher. You’re shooting it like the guy’s 6-foot-3.”
This echoed a fundamental piece of Calipari’s Dribble-Drive Offense. Players can miss layups or floaters in the lane. But they cannot get the shot blocked. If they get it on the rim, a teammate can dunk the rebound.
Briscoe did not warm to the idea of simply shooting the ball higher.
“Trust me, I’m going to play how I play,” he said. “Coach, he says what he says. It’s all good.”
Briscoe agreed with a reporter’s suggestion that coaches must find an area in need of improvement.
“It’s cool,” he said of Calipari’s critiques. “I’m totally fine with it. K.P. (Kenny Payne) is the same way. They’re never satisfied. If you’re coaches are never satisfied, players should never be satisfied.”
‘Win it all’
Teams cannot stop everything an opponent does. So teams put a priority on what must be contained, what would be nice to be contained and what to risk giving the other team.
Briscoe’s perimeter shooting fell into the latter category.
“When he is making shots, that’s what we game-planned to live with,” A&M Coach Billy Kennedy said. “When he’s doing that, they can win it all. I know Coach Cal doesn’t want to hear that, but when he’s a weapon offensively like he was today, I don’t know how you defend it.”
When told of Kennedy linking his outside shooting to UK winning the national championship, Briscoe said, “Thanks. I appreciate it.”
Point guard woes
Kennedy took the blame for A&M’s lack of backcourt depth. The Aggies have been in scramble mode, in part because freshman J.J. Caldwell did not gain his academic eligibility.
When asked if there was an easy fix for Texas A&M’s point guard problems, Kennedy said, ‘No. We’re limited in perimeter depth. That comes back to recruiting, and that’s my fault. ... But the guys we’ve got are capable of playing better, and the guys we have are capable of getting better. We still should be able to win. We’ve got enough guys here to be successful.”
Kentucky had not played a home game since beating Valparaiso on Dec. 7. That span of 26 days between home games was the longest in the history of Rupp Arena.
Other notable holes in UK schedules without home games include:
No home games from Nov. 29 through Dec. 22 in the 2003-04 season. In that span, UK played four games, including a home-away-from-home game in Cincinnati, plus games in Anaheim, Detroit and Indianapolis.
No home games from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5 in the 2014-15 season. UK played two games in those three weeks: against UCLA in Chicago and at Louisville.
Surely, UK fans missed their Cats in the 1992-93 season. UK played one home game from Dec. 23 through Jan. 25. Four SEC road games, a trip to New York for the Holiday Festival and a game against Indiana in Louisville filled UK’s dance card.
Both coaching staffs recalled what happened in the UK-Texas A&M game here four years ago. On Jan. 12, 2013, Elston Turner scored 40 points to lead A&M to an 83-71 victory.
Kennedy said he would use that game to try to get his players to believe.
“It’ll come up,” he said on Monday. “We can win there. We know we can win here. We’re going there to win. Now, we’ve got to do a lot of things special, and we’ve got to hope they don’t play well. So that’s the reality of who we’re playing and where we’re going.”
That Calipari mentioned the game during a SEC teleconference Monday did not surprise Kennedy.
“When you lose, like, only three or four games in that arena in eight years ... you remember the ones you lost,” the A&M coach said.
Calipari’s record as UK coach in Rupp Arena improved to 126-5.
UK scored 100 points for the fifth time. That’s the most times hitting the century mark in a season since the 1995-96 Cats did it nine times. Calipari credited pace of play.
“More possessions,” he said. “We’re getting more possessions. When you end up getting 10, 12 more possessions, and you score on half of those ... we go from an 80-point scoring team to a 90, 92 or 93.”