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Drive to the Hoop and Take your Bow, Isaiah Briscoe

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He's come far this season, from high school star to the gritty heart and soul of this UK team

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Who among us hasn't screamed at Isaiah Briscoe this year as he tiptoes along the baseline, into a crowd, oblivious of pretty much everything, a video on a loop of "put your head down and drive"?

So it's time to acknowledge that that very same Briscoe pretty much salvaged that SEC championship win over Texas A&M. And he's a key factor in Kentucky's run into and through the tournament.

In the first half, as Alex Caruso chased Jamal Murray up and down, end to end, in his face, in his chest, denying him the ball, even taking a seat next to him in Kentucky's huddles; and as Tyler Ulis tried to figure out who else should get the ball and fill the void of Murray's scorelessness; Briscoe got the ball up high, put it on the floor, bulled and slithered his way to the post and rolled the ball into the hoop.

At that point, Kentucky was in need of scoring. The Cats were also in need of energy, some antidote to A&M's bullying underneath. And Briscoe provided both. Push Skal off the block, maybe; deny Alex his spots, maybe; outmuscle Marcus Lee, maybe; but you're not going to push or deny or outmuscle or intimidate Isaiah.

It didn't amount to all that in the box score. Tyler Ulis' spectacular and steady constancy was the story of the game, and Murray and Derek Willis made the threes that made the highlight reel, but Briscoe was the one who stuck his nose in the dirt, who gave Kentucky the personality it was sorely lacking.

Five times he split the A&M defense to get the ball up and off the board or around the rim and through. And other times, as the Aggie defense tried to close him out, he found Murray on a three, Ulis on a three, Willis on a three, Poythress on a three, Skal on a dunk.

The one I think everyone will remember came with four minutes to play in regulation, after a tiring, struggling Murray missed a three from the corner. But Briscoe fought off all the A&M big men to grab the offensive rebound and return it to Murray who, this time, didn't miss.

This was now a team fighting for each other, what Karl-Anthony Towns referred to a year ago as his "band of brothers."

Maybe that's John Calipari's special sauce. His teams don't have seniors who came in together, developed together and now know each others' tendencies. His teams have high school all-Americans who only knew how to play for themselves because that's all they ever had to do. In a short time, he breaks down their bad habits and any "it's all about me" tendencies and forces them to buy into the team concept.

Mr. Briscoe, you may have been a tremendous hotshot in New Jersey, but this ball belongs to Mr. Ulis, the shots here belong to Mr. Murray, now go and figure out how to make yourself useful.

And he has, with some of those tasks not every college freshman enjoys doing: scrapping for loose balls, taking charging fouls, setting picks for other people and playing defense.

When you look at his box score, you see the usual 10 or 12 points. But also notice the seven rebounds, the five or six assists, the couple of steals.

After one game recently, Mike Pratt asked Briscoe on the radio how he'd managed to play so well without turning the ball over. And Briscoe said, matter-of-factly, not boastfully just factually, "I don't turn the ball over."

And it's not just defense he plays, either. It's in-your-face, thou-shall-not-pass defense. You may beat me to a loose ball, but it will cost you some nose blood. You may get me to commit five fouls tonight, but you'll feel every one of them. That kind of defense. Patrick Patterson defense. DeAndre Liggins defense. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist defense. Willie Cauley-Stein defense.

Who knows how far this edition of UK basketball will go? Who knows if Willis will get hot, or if Murray will stay hot, which Skal will show up, how Alex will close out his college career?

But Briscoe will be there, driving us crazy with his baseline drives until we realize that it is his relentless energy, his no-reverse gear box, that's exactly what's making life bearable for the Cats with the more gaudy box score lines.

And when the Cats win, it's why they win.