John Clay

John Clay: Kentucky basketball doesn’t reach the SEC finals without Isaiah Briscoe

Isaiah Briscoe responds to Calipari's coaching

Kentucky guard Isaiah Briscoe talks about taking rather vocal coaching from John Calipari and responding to help UK beat Georgia 93-80 in the SEC Tournament.
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Kentucky guard Isaiah Briscoe talks about taking rather vocal coaching from John Calipari and responding to help UK beat Georgia 93-80 in the SEC Tournament.

Everyone wants to talk nonstop about Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray, Kentucky’s twin killers in the backcourt, and rightfully so.

Me, I want to talk about Isaiah Briscoe.

I know, I know, Ulis and Murray combined for 51 points Saturday — Murray pumped in 26; Ulis added 25 — as the 16th-ranked Cats dug deep to overcome a determined Georgia 93-80 in a gripping semifinals of the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena.

And yes, Ulis, the SEC’s Player of the Year, and Murray, the SEC’s Freshman of the Year, lead No. 2 seed Kentucky into Sunday’s 1 p.m. tournament final against No. 1 seed and 17th-ranked Texas A&M.

Truth be told, Kentucky doesn’t get to Sunday without Isaiah Briscoe.

The talented but often overshadowed freshman guard scored 12 points, grabbed seven rebounds, including three from the offensive boards, dished two assists, made a steal, hit four of five free throws — not a misprint — and made all the key, necessary plays a team has to make in a knockdown, drag-out affair such as Saturday.

Plus, the New Jersey native, did much of that after receiving some rather public and shall we say demonstrative urging from his head coach.

“Very private conversation,” said John Calipari.

It was the 16:11 mark of the first half when an angry Calipari lit into Briscoe with just about everything the fist-pumping, arm-waving coach had.

The things I do on the court, a lot of them don’t show up on the stat sheet. Like I said, I’m just trying to do the things I need to do help the team win.

Isaiah Briscoe

“As a coach he demands the best of you. And that’s all he did,” Briscoe said. “I appreciate him pushing me and to being somebody that obviously I didn’t want to be at the time in the first half. But in the first half, he got the best out of me, and I performed.”

That’s what Briscoe said up on the podium during the post-game news conference. Later, in the locker room, he expanded on that a bit.

“He just wanted to see the energy, the defense, the enthusiasm; being into the game,” Briscoe said. “He thought I wasn’t doing that in the first half. He said what he said to me. And then the second half he got the best out of me and I did what he wanted me to do.”

This is what Briscoe did and did quickly: He scored seven points, grabbed three rebounds and dished two assists. It was his rebound and basket with 8:16 left that put Kentucky ahead 68-67, its first lead since nearly the first minute of the game.

“Did you appreciate (what I said)?” Calipari asked Briscoe up on the podium.

“Now that the game is over, yes,” Briscoe answered. “But at the moment, no.”

Briscoe often does the little things that go underappreciated but end up being big. Rebounding. Defending. Effort plays.

“I don’t think he gets enough credit for what he does, but that’s life, you gotta deal with it,” said his teammate Alex Poythress. “He’s never complained about it. He just keeps on playing hard.”

“The things I do on the court, a lot of them don’t show up on the stat sheet,” Briscoe said. “Like I said, I’m just trying to do the things I need to do to help the team win.”

You know who that sounds like? Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. This is not to say Briscoe is MKG, who was such a vital part of the 2012 title team. It is to say that Briscoe can make the same sort of contributions with his intensity and competitiveness.

Kentucky will need a lot of those types of plays and more to beat Texas A&M on Sunday. The Aggies are deep, strong and on a significant roll. Billy Kennedy’s team demoralized LSU 71-38 in Saturday’s first semifinal.

No doubt, UK feels it has a score to settle after the unusual circumstances — i.e. Isaac Humphries’ late technical foul — in that one-point overtime loss in College Station on Feb. 20, but it won’t be easy. Texas A&M may be the best team Kentucky’s played all season. Now, the Cats play them again.

“Whatever the team needs me to do,” said Isaiah Briscoe, “I’ll do it.”

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