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Keith Taylor: Briscoe records double-double, Wildcats a ‘different team’ when he’s on the court

Isaiah Briscoe added a new dimension to Kentucky’s lineup Saturday night and it showed.

Briscoe, who sat out the Wildcats’ season-opening 78-65 win over Albany Friday night because of a knee bruise, recorded a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds in second-ranked Kentucky’s 87-57 rout of NJIT at Rupp Arena.

 Kentucky guard Isaiah  Briscoe scored 11 points and had 12 rebounds in his debut Saturday night (Bill Thiry Photo)

Kentucky guard Isaiah Briscoe scored 11 points and had 12 rebounds in his debut Saturday night (Bill Thiry Photo)

Kentucky coach John Calipari praised the contributions his freshman guard made in the Wildcats’ final tune-up before Tuesday night’s showdown against defending national champion Duke in Chicago.

“Isaiah makes us a different team,” Calipari said. “I knew it when he wasn’t playing the first game. I thought we were going to lose.”

After bumping knees with teammate Dominique Hawkins, Briscoe missed two days of practice last week because of a bone bruise. Following his debut Saturday night, Briscoe said his knee “felt good” and enjoyed being back on the court. Briscoe wasn’t in the starting lineup but was part of the first five on the floor to open the second half.

Briscoe’s main priority was to enjoy the atmosphere and give the team a lift while on the court.

“Coach (Calipari) always reminds us to go out there and have fun and play,” he said. “That’s exactly what we did. I just went out there and had fun.”

BOXSCORE: Kentucky 87, NJIT 57

Since’s he’s been at Kentucky, Briscoe likes being surrounded by similar talent, which he says has elevated his game.

“I can pick my spots now and I’m playing with great players,” he said. “That’s been a plus to my game and I don’t have to force too many shots.”

Briscoe also doesn’t mind sharing the floor with classmate Jamal Murray and point guard Tyler Ulis. The trio were starters in the team’s two exhibition games, but Charles Matthews started in place of Briscoe in the season opener.

“I love it,” he said. “I try to get them shots. They try to get me shots, and for the most part, all three of us are unselfish and we’re just out there having fun.”

Calipari likes Briscoe’s “winning attitude” and added Briscoe and Murray are “perfect partners on the court.”

 Skal Labissiere scored 26 points to lead all scorers Saturday night (Bill Thiry Photo)

Skal Labissiere scored 26 points to lead all scorers Saturday night (Bill Thiry Photo)

“He’s going to do what it takes, he’s going to play to win,” Calipari said. “Jamal can do stuff that he can’t do. He does stuff that Jamal can’t do. And they both do one thing pretty well — turn it over. They had seven between them. They both turned it over.”

Briscoe committed a team-high four miscues and made just five shots on 11 attempts, but took delight in his rebounding, one of the big reasons Kentucky held a 54-23 edge on the glass. The margin was the largest in the Calipari era at Kentucky.

“I’m a rebounder (and) I like to rebound,” he said. “Coach Calipari told me that if I get the rebound, I could just go play. If the other team misses and I get the rebound, we don’t have to run any plays. We can just go play.”

Briscoe’s biggest contribution was providing the grit and toughness Calipari said the Wildcats lacked in the 13-point win over Albany.

“That’s what coach speaks about when I’m on the floor,” he said. “While I’m out there I’m just trying to win. I dive on the floor, get loose balls and rebound.”

Briscoe hopes Kentucky can provide the same effort against the Blue Devils in the Wildcats’ first major test of the season.

“Whatever happens on Tuesday happens,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”


* Freshman Skal Labissiere finished with a career-high 26 points, including 18 in the first half and made his first eight shots from the field. Labissiere was 10-for-12 from the floor and made all six of his free-throw attempts.

“He’s got to rebound more,” Calipari said. “And I told him the one thing that I can’t do for him is teach him to fight and (show) grit. He’s going to have to do that. But he made strides, he did good today.”

* Junior Derek Willis finished with 11 points and made three of four shots from long range. Willis has scored 25 points in two games. “Derek (Willis) went in and went crazy,” Calipari said. “Derek is just doing what he does. Derek is really helping us.”

Game tracker: Kentucky vs. Duke, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 FM WBUL.

Keith Taylor is a columnist and senior sports writer who covers University of Kentucky athletics for KyForward.com

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