Before Kentucky played Duke, Isaiah Briscoe asked assistant coach Kenny Payne a question: “How many is he allowed to get?”
The “he” in question was Grayson Allen, Duke’s leading scorer with an average of 27 points per game.
Payne said 10 points
“I don’t know how much he ended up with,” Briscoe said Thursday, “but I was just trying my best to not let him get over 10.”
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Allen scored six points, a reason Kentucky won 74-63 (only the fourth time UK has beaten the Blue Devils by a double-digit margin).
With UK Coach John Calipari already having saluted the freshman’s grit, a reporter asked Briscoe if he was the team’s stopper.
Briscoe smiled. “Is that what it looked like?” he said with a hint of expectation in his voice.
Yes, he was told.
“Then I’m the stopper,” Briscoe said.
Calipari was not prepared to go that far. At least not after three games. The suggestion that Briscoe might fill a role once held by such players as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and DeAndre Liggins brought a swift reply.
“He’s totally different,” Calipari said of Briscoe. “And he gives you so much offense with the ball. He’s so creative. He’s a scorer.”
Translation: Briscoe can be more than a defender.
Briscoe averaged more than 20 points a game as a high school junior and senior. He acknowledged that he did not expect to become a defender.
“Not at all,” he said. “Not a chance.”
So no wonder that friends and family did not immediately recognize the player who hounded Allen.
When asked what the tweets he received after the game read, Briscoe said, “Since when. Since when have you started playing defense.”
Briscoe shared his response with reporters. “Since I got here,” he said. “Coach Cal has been making me.”
In high school, Briscoe took a leisurely approach when the opposition had the ball. He was a cafeteria defender, picking and choosing when to defend.
“I played honest defense,” he said. “Take a couple trips off. Then I might play defense three trips in a row. Then take another couple trips off.”
That changed when he came to Kentucky.
“Growing up, I just wasn’t forced to play defense,” Briscoe said. “But coming here, Cal, he’s holding everybody accountable. He thinks I can be the best defender in the country. So he’s going to push me to do that.”
Even though the season is only a week/three games old, Calipari lauded Briscoe’s improvement as a defender.
“Oh, he’s been tremendous,” the UK coach said. “He’s confident and comfortable in his own skin. So he doesn’t really worry about anybody else. He knows who he is.”
It could be argued that backcourt mates Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray might overshadow Briscoe. If this bothers Briscoe, he hasn’t said or shown any discontent. And being Jose Carreras alongside Pavarotti and Placido Domingo, you’re still one of the Three Tenors.
“We’re just trying to define him in a way that everybody wants to watch and say, ‘Wow, I love that kid.’”
I’m such a competitor. I’m always looking for something to keep me going. Every day in practice, I’m counting my steals. I’m trying to beat the record I had yesterday. Trying to get better day by day. Looking for ways to keep myself motivated.
Kentucky guard Isaiah Briscoe
Whatever definition Briscoe and Kentucky decide upon, it will probably involve defense. Briscoe said he’s come to enjoy the role of stopper.
“It gets me in the game early,” he said, meaning he’s quickly engaged emotionally in the competition. “My adrenaline is always rushing. Just knowing I’m playing the best offensive player on the other team. No room for error.”
The plan against Allen called for making him do anything but shoot uncontested jump shots.
“Fight over screens,” Briscoe said. “Chase over screens. Nothing easy. (Make Allen shoot) ‘hard twos.’”
Briscoe was eager to comply.
“I’m such a competitor,” he said. “I’m always looking for something to keep me going. Every day in practice, I’m counting my steals. I’m trying to beat the record I had yesterday. Trying to get better day by day. Looking for ways to keep myself motivated.”
Conveniently, Allen helped by driving at UK’s big men.
“You can’t expose the ball on a drive against shot blockers,” Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “. . . If your habit is to do that, he went to his habit even though his habit was not going to be successful tonight.”
Briscoe apparently got so enthralled in the game against Duke that he had to exit with cramps. Cramps hadn’t been an issue in the past, Briscoe said. Of course, in the past, he hadn’t played with such defensive intensity.
Calipari prescribed more intensity in practice in order to better condition the body.
“If you don’t go harder, you’ll cramp up every game,” the UK coach said. “Your body has to get used to that kind of pace.”
Wright State at Kentucky
When: 8 p.m.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: Wright State 1-2, Kentucky 3-0
Series: Kentucky leads 3-0
Last meeting: Kentucky won 97-75 on Nov. 23, 1998, in Cincinnati.