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Isaiah Briscoe becoming the star Kentucky needs him to be

Kentucky needed Isaiah Briscoe to become a bigger offensive threat to win it all. He’s becoming that and then some.

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

As usual, freshmen are drawing most of the spotlight when it comes to Kentucky Basketball.

Between, De’Aaron Fox being the fastest guard in college hoops, Malik Monk being a Player of the Year candidate, and Bam Adebayo being a potential lottery pick, it’s easy to overlook what guys like Isaiah Briscoe are doing for the sixth-ranked Wildcats.

Coming into the season, we already knew Briscoe was going to be a great defender and slasher, but the lack of shooting from last year had many wondering if he would make much of a dent offensively this year.

When a guard shoots 14-percent from three-point range and 46-percent from the charity stripe, it’s hard to put the ball in his hands, let alone run offense through him.

Briscoe is finally becoming a guy that UK can do that with. That was evident Tuesday when the sophomore knocked down 3-of-3 three-pointers while finishing with 13 points and seven assists.

After the game, Aggies coach Billy Kennedy was effusive with his praise of Briscoe, not to mention being very high on this UK team when the sophomore guard is a three-point threat.

“That’s what we game-planned to live with,” Kennedy said of Briscoe’s three-point shooting. “When he’s doing that, they can win it all. I know Coach Cal doesn’t want to hear that, but when he’s a weapon offensively like he was today I don’t know how you defend it.”

This comes after Briscoe recorded just the third triple-double in program history in last week’s win at Ole Miss, a game in which he went 1-of-1 from deep. Just having him as a threat on the perimeter is spacing the floor more and allowing UK to score an average of 95 points over their last eight games.

During that span, Briscoe has hit 8-of-15 threes while shooting 52-percent from the field, but he’s also averaging 5.4 assists per game over that span. His improved offense is a big reason why UK is starting to look like the most dangerous team in college basketball.

Perhaps the biggest indicator of Briscoe’s impact are the games in which he’s struggled. In losses to UCLA and Louisville, Briscoe shot a combined 5-of-19 from the field (0-of-5 on threes) and had six assists vs turnovers while dealing with foul trouble both games.

Back in October, John Calipari said Briscoe could be a lottery pick in the NBA draft if he just shot the ball at an average level this year, which alone would be a big upgrade over his woeful freshman numbers.

“But, I told him, ‘It doesn’t matter if I put the ball in your hands more or less, play you at another position, it doesn’t matter if you don’t improve your shooting.’ The good news for him is he was so bad last year that if he shoots 30% and 67% from the foul line, he’s like a lottery pick.

“You would say, ‘What?’ Yeah, because the improvement is so drastic they look and say, ‘Wow if he’s on that path.’ So, he’s been working.”

Now, we’re seeing that hard work play out on the court, where Briscoe has made six of his last seven-three pointers and is hitting 41-percent from deep.

“He's in the gym working. He got away from it for a while, and his shooting went south,” Cal said of Briscoe following UK’s 100-58 win over Texas A&M. “Now, he's in there after every practice. He stays after at the shoot around.”

That extra work isn’t just helping Briscoe, but also helping freshman De’Aaron Fox learn to carry himself like a pro.

“And De'Aaron Fox, now we're forcing him to do the same thing,” Cal said of the extra shooting. “Isaiah's doing it on his own, trying to master his own craft, but he's doing good.”

If Briscoe keeps producing the way he’s been recently, it’s hard to see anyone beating this team.

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