Kentucky coaches literally want their players to shoot free throws straight at the rim. At least so far this season, that makes Isaiah Briscoe and Marcus Lee a two-man gang that couldn’t shoot straight.
Briscoe, who missed his two attempts from the line at Alabama, has made 34 percent of his free throws (18 of 53). Lee, who missed his five attempts at Alabama, is shooting 36.8 percent from the line (14 of 38).
“All we want both of them to do is shoot the ball straight,” said assistant coach John Robic, who substituted for John Calipari at a news conference Monday. “If you shoot a straight shot, it has a chance to go in. If it’s left or right, it has absolutely no chance.”
The inference was Briscoe and Lee are shooting free throws that drift left or right as they near the rim.
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The ball moving in your hands as you shoot causes the drift left or right, Robic said.
Of the ball heading straight to the rim, Robic said, “That’s all we’re asking these kids to do, and we have a chance to rebound the ball.”
As of Monday, Kentucky ranked No. 292 in the nation in free-throw accuracy (65 percent). In Southeastern Conference play, the Cats ranked last at 56.2 percent (41 of 73).
Robic also said that UK wants its free throw shooters to simplify their shooting mechanics.
“The less motion the better,” he said. “Keep everything still. That’s the way we teach it.”
Briscoe made only one of nine free throws in UK’s last two games (11.1 percent). In the last six games, he’s made four of 22 (18.2 percent).
“He’s working his tail off, I can tell you that … ,” Robic said. “He knows he has to work on it.”
Without specifically mentioning Briscoe’s obvious competitiveness, Robic said, “I just have a feeling that kid is going to make them when it really matters.”
In saluting how well Tyler Ulis made decisions in UK’s pick-and-roll action at Alabama, Robic said, “We don’t have to teach Tyler a whole lot. He’s one of the smartest players I’ve been around in my 27, 28 years of coaching.
“He helps us sometimes. He just has a great feel for that. You’re shocked when he doesn’t make the right read.”
As of Monday, Ulis ranked No. 30 nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.15-to-1). In UK’s last four games, he’s had 32 assists and seven turnovers.
Have defense, will travel
First-year Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland did not need a primer on the challenge of bringing a team to Rupp Arena.
“There can’t be a tougher venue or team to play against on the road … ,” he said on an SEC coaches’ teleconference.
At a news conference later in the day, Howland likened Rupp Arena to the home-court advantages enjoyed by Kansas and Arkansas.
So how can State expect to win at Kentucky?
“To win on the road, you have to play great defense,” Howland said. “Defense is what travels best.”
Mississippi State trailed 62-59 late in the second half at Arkansas on Saturday. Then the Hogs went on an 18-4 run.
“Really, really got shellacked the last three and one-half minutes,” Howland said. Arkansas made 16 of 24 three-point shots in the game.
“But, to me, the inability to score hurt us most,” Howland said.
State needs to get the ball more often to post player Gavin Ware, who has to improve his decision-making against double teams, Howland said.
Senior guard Craig “Chicken” Sword is coming off a season-high 21-point performance at Arkansas.
“I love Sword,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said Monday. “I love his athleticism. … The thing I love about him is he has a big heart. He’s relentless. No fear.”
Sword is averaging 12.4 points per game. He’s scored 1,262 points in his career.
“I’m going to do everything I can to try to get a win for my team,” he said. “I think I am fearless. I’m really not scared of anything.”
▪ State’s marquee freshman, Malik Newman, was a recruiting target of Kentucky’s. “Tough to say no to your home state team or one of them,” Robic said. Newman is averaging 13 points a game.
▪ Brad Nessler, Sean Farnham and sideline reporter Shannon Spake will call the game for ESPN.