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Keith Taylor: No longer overthinking, UK guard Briscoe regaining his shooting touch


Even when he was struggling, Isaiah Briscoe never lost confidence in his shooting.

“I don’t think I lost it,” said Briscoe, who scored 14 points in No. 14 Kentucky’s 80-74 win over Mississippi State Tuesday night. “I was just thinking too much. I think on the court, but I don’t overthink. I think the last three or four games, I was just overthinking.”

 Isaiah Briscoe scored 14 points in UK's win over Mississippi State Tuesday night (Bill Thiry Photo)

Isaiah Briscoe scored 14 points in UK’s win over Mississippi State Tuesday night (Bill Thiry Photo)

Briscoe scored double figures in seven of Kentucky’s first eight games but failed to duplicate the feat in four straight contests before scoring 12 in the Wildcats’ 77-61 win at Alabama last week.

In the past two games, Briscoe has combined for 26 points and made 13-of-19 shots, a sign the freshman guard is starting to regain his confidence on the court. In addition to his double-digit outing against the Bulldogs, Briscoe dished out five assists, had just one turnover and one steal in 36 minutes.

“I’ve been growing up (and) I’ve been going off heart and confidence,” he said. “That’s just who I am.”

BOXSCORE: Kentucky 80, Mississippi State 74

Briscoe, Jamal Murray (22 points), and point guard Tyler Ulis (21) helped the Wildcats (13-3, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) overcome a lack of a post presence for the second time in the past three games and carried the load in the scoring department.

Although he sank five 3-pointers and led the team in scoring, Murray said Briscoe’s contributions were valuable.

“He played good,” Murray said. “He found open guys, he scored and he was in the right spots, hustled on defense. He changed the game for us.”

 Derek Willis made two threes and finished with eight points Tuesday

Derek Willis made two threes and finished with eight points Tuesday (Bill Thiry Photo)

Kentucky coach John Calipari said Briscoe is “getting better and more comfortable” on the court, but is still trying to figure out the right style of play for the freshman guard.

“I’ve got to figure out where he’s most comfortable playing,” he said. “Like today, I put him under the basket. You know what? He’s really comfortable under there. Alabama we put him in pick-and-rolls and he had flashbacks to playing in AAU basketball and he made shots.”

In the win over Mississippi State, post players Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress and Skal Labissiere combined for just 13 points, leaving the scoring up to Murray, Briscoe and Ulis and the rest of Kentucky’s outside shooters.

Briscoe admitted he wasn’t focused on the team’s problems underneath, but likes the way Ulis addresses this issues while on the court.

“He’s our leader, our floor general,” Briscoe said. “He pays attention to things like that and he just wants five people on the court that’s going to want to win. That’s going to help us win.”

In addition to the problems in the post, Kentucky struggled to put the Bulldogs away, blowing a 20-point lead in the second half. Mississippi State trimmed the margin to three with less than two minutes left, but the Wildcats made six free throws, including two rim-rattlers by Ulis to escape with a ninth straight win over Bulldogs.

Briscoe wasn’t surprised by the Mississippi State’s late surge that made things interesting down the stretch.

“Things like that happen, we’re in the SEC,” he said. “Coach said we’re going to get every team’s best game. We were up 20 and they just continued to fight and brought it within three. I give a lot of credit to Mississippi State.”

Although Briscoe, who made 7-of-9 shots from the field Tuesday night, appears to past his recent struggles, he’s still trying to find his mark at the free-throw line. In 14 games this season, Briscoe is shooting 33 percent (18-of-54) from the charity stripe. He was 0-1 against the Bulldogs.

“That’ll come,” Briscoe said. “I’m in a slump at the free-throw line, but it happens. I’m still feeling more comfortable out on the court with everything else, so free throws are the last thing on my mind.”
Like his outside shooting, Briscoe knows what it will take to get on track at the charity stripe.

“I’ve got a big heart,” he said. “That’s all it takes.”

Notes

* Poythress, who scored a career-high 25 points in Kentucky’s last outing, a 77-61 win at Alabama, scored just six against the Bulldogs. His biggest contribution was making four crucial free throws in the final minute.

“Alex made free throws down the stretch and showed a lot of courage,” Calipari said. “But in the guts of that game, he was not a factor and when you’re that good, you need to be a factor.”

Poythress has scored double figures in six games this season.

* Kentucky junior Dominique Hawkins missed his third straight game after spraining his ankle in Kentucky’s win over Ole Miss on Jan. 2 and is listed as day-to-day.

“We need Dom back badly,” Calipari said. “We are playing some guys that don’t deserve to be in there.”

* Ulis has scored 20 or more points in four of the last five games.

* Derek Willis made two threes and finished with eight points in 11 minutes. He also had an assist, a steal and a block.

* The Wildcats extended their home winning streak to 30 games, the fourth-longest in school history.

* Murray has hit a 3-pointer in his first 16 collegiate games, a school record.

Game tracker: Kentucky at Auburn, Saturday, 4 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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