UK-IU Notebook: Isaiah the Rebounder

DES MOINES, Iowa – Talk to head coach John Calipari about Isaiah Briscoe and there’s one adjective he’s probably going to use at one point or another: bulldog.

A 6-foot-3 guard built to take and deliver blows, the Newark, N.J., native is next to impossible to stop when he drives to the lane, and recently he’s been one of the fourth-seeded Wildcats’ best rebounders.

“Me getting down there and sticking my nose down there, grabbing rebounds and helping (the bigs) out, I’m sure it takes a lot of pressure off them,” Briscoe said.

Against Stony Brook, Briscoe pulled down a team-high 11 rebounds, which is even more impressive considering it wasn’t even a season high. That came in his first collegiate game when he grabbed 12 rebounds against NJIT, which was the only game in which he had registered a double-double prior to Thursday night’s NCAA Tournament opening-round victory.

“Oh yeah, rebounding is fun,” Briscoe said. “And of course, when I get a rebound, I’m yelling at Tyler (Ulis) and Jamal (Murray), ‘Go, I got it. Go, go.’ We’re just getting out in transition. I think that’s where we’re at our best when we’re in transition.”

For the season, Briscoe is pulling down 5.4 rebounds per game, good for third on the team. 

And while his backcourt mates Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray tend to grab the headlines with their gaudy point and assist totals, it’s Briscoe who appears to be the glue that holds it all together by doing a little bit of everything in order to help get UK over the top.

The Hoosiers, with their strong offensive rebounding prowess, will be an opponent that if the Wildcats are going to come out on top will need Briscoe crashing the glass along with the UK frontcourt contingent.

“I like him to rebound free throws both offensively and defensively more than I do anyone else on my team,” Coach Cal said of Briscoe. “He goes and gets balls and does whey what he's supposed to do.”

Better late than never

Jamal Murray couldn’t hit a shot in the first half Thursday night against Stony Brook. And yet, the Kitchener, Ontario, native still finished with a team-high 19 points, including a pair of triples and was one of the stories of the game not for his misses, but his precision.

That’s why the games are 40 minutes.

“I know I started off pretty bad and I missed shots that I don't normally miss,” Murray said. “I got it going the second half and I've got to carry that into this game and new day, new game. I have to take it one step at a time.”

Murray, after all, has had a tendency of coming on strong in the second half of games.

Against Ohio State, Murray hit just 3 of his 10 shots in the first half, scoring six points. In the second half, he connected on 10-of-13 shots, including 7 of 8 from beyond the arc, and finished with 33 total points.

After Thursday’s outing, Calipari chalked Murray’s slow start up to opening game jitters of the NCAA Tournament. In the second half, he was his normal self, hitting 6-of-7 shots for 15 points and coming up just a single-point shy of logging his 19th 20-point game of the year.

One thing is for certain, a cold first half hasn’t made Indiana lower its guar in preparation for Saturday’s showdown.

“He's really improved as a shooter, there is no question about that, his shot selection has improved,” Crean said. “He comes off screens very well and he does a great job of coming off the foul line. They do a great job of getting him hope and giving him choices of which way to go to. … One of the reasons Kentucky is so good is, obviously they've got really good players, (and) the reason they have really good players is they make each other better, and I think Jamal Murray makes his teammates better.”

Battle of the bow and arrow

Kentucky and Indiana fans found something new to argue about on Thursday night.

Both Yogi Ferrell and Jamal Murray were spotted celebrating 3-pointers by shooting an invisible bow and arrow, Ferrell into the crowd and Murray at his teammates on the bench.

So, who invented the celebration?

Murray said Ferrell got the celebration from him, but it wasn’t clear whether he was serious or not. Ferrell, meanwhile, said he was inspired by Dallas Mavericks sharpshooter Wesley Matthews. And upon further review, Matthews does appear to be the originator.

So, will Murray and Ferrell be dueling to see who shoots the better arrow?

“We’ll see what kind of game it is,” Murray said. “It might be a defensive game. It might be an offensive game. We just gotta go in there not focused on too much celebrations and just focus on hitting the 3.”