Briscoe UK’s Rock in Early-Season Win

John Calipari doesn’t ask for perfect execution. He knows that’s not possible, especially at this early stage of the season.

What he does demand, however, is impeccable effort. In fact, not meeting that standard is the only thing that will immediately earn a player a spot next to him on the bench.

“I take you out when you don't dive on that floor, you don't come up with that tough rebound, you don't talk on defense,” Calipari said. “That doesn't take a skill, that's an effort. That's a focus. That's a laser focus on winning.”

Two games in, only one player is showing that focus on an every-possession basis.

“And when you watch this team, who has it on this team?” Calipari said. “Isaiah (Briscoe).”

It should come as no surprise, then, that when UK faced in-game adversity for the first time, Briscoe – the Wildcats’ undisputed leader – stepped up. Trailing Canisius 9-2 in the early going, Calipari called timeout. Briscoe was there in support.

“I just kept telling the guys that we’re fine,” Briscoe said. “Teams are going to make their runs. Just keep calm.”

And when UK returned to the floor, it was Briscoe who took the reins. He scored on each of the Cats’ next two possessions.

“When we came out sluggish, I knew that was when I had to keep us in the game and then the second half everybody got loose and then we were just playing how we play,” Briscoe said.

Behind Briscoe and his career-high 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting, UK established control late in the first half and surged ahead in the second. The result was a 93-69 victory for No. 2/4 Kentucky (2-0) over the visiting Golden Griffins (0-1).

“Isaiah was the man,” Calipari said. “What he did was, he just willed us when we were dying, and just said, look, I'm not settling, I'm going to get something at the rim.”

Briscoe’s example eventually inspired the freshmen. De’Aaron Fox matched Briscoe’s career- and game-high with 21 points, Malik Monk chipped in 16 and Bam Adebayo had his first double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

“He just took over,” Fox said. “He did what a leader’s supposed to do. He knows what’s going on. He’s been in adversity before here. We haven’t faced it yet. He stepped up and then we just followed his lead.”

Considering why Briscoe decided to return for his sophomore season, those words are music to his ears.

“That was the whole point of me coming back, just trying to lead these young guys,” Briscoe said. “Keep them on the right track and keep them focused.”

The other reason Briscoe returned was to improve his own game, a task he’s attacked with no hesitation.

“Well, the other thing is if you come to our practice, he's the last one to leave every day and he gets extra shots in,” Calipari said. “You build your own self-esteem, self-confidence, you build that will. You don't surrender because you've invested too much.”

That investment is now yielding return for Briscoe, who is averaging 19 points on 15-of-24 shooting from the field and 7-of-11 shooting from the foul line. That doesn’t mean he’s resting on his laurels.

“It feels good,” Briscoe said. “Hard work pays off. I’m still in the gym at nights, one of the first ones in practice getting shots up early. It’s just a grind. You gotta continue to do it.”

Briscoe will also continue to put forth the fully dedicated effort Calipari is looking for, mostly because he doesn’t know any other way. And with him as an example, Briscoe doesn’t think it’ll be long before his younger teammates follow suit.

“I’ve had that since I was growing up,” Briscoe said. “But I think Bam competes, Fox competes, Malik competes, but probably not just as high of a level. Sometimes they’ll take plays off, but once they start buying into what Coach is saying those guys will be out there competing just as hard as me.”