As important as De’Aaron Fox being healthy is for Kentucky, and as important it is that Malik Monk bounce back from Friday afternoon’s 1-for-7 outing, Isaiah Briscoe is still the glue that holds this year’s Wildcats together.
Briscoe, who got off to a quiet start in the midst of Kentucky’s best start to a game in a while, finished with 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting, six rebounds, two assists and two steals in 34 minutes during Kentucky’s 71-60 victory in the SEC Tournament quarterfinal matchup against the Georgia Bulldogs. Briscoe also played a role in Georgia’s star guard J.J. Frazier shooting 4-for-17 from the field with a trio of turnovers on Friday.
“I’m really pleased with Isaiah Briscoe,” Calipari said after Friday’s win, via Kyle Tucker of SEC Country.
“He ran the team. I’ve got two point guards. Malik will tell you I have three; I disagree, but I do think we have two – and Dom (Hawkins) if he needs to.”
Calipari went on to say this about his sophomore leader: “These guys know in a foxhole, dude is coming out fighting. He ain’t running.”
He’s not wrong.
Nothing about Briscoe’s game is ever the prettiest thing in the world, but nobody (sans maybe Dominique Hawkins) works harder on the floor than Briscoe does for Big Blue. They needed every bit of his 20-point performance with Monk completely disengaged and the bench providing just nine points on 1-of-11 shooting against the Bulldogs.
What made him so good on Friday and a key reason why there’s a Saturday for Kentucky? Let’s take a look.
Arguably the biggest bucket of the game came from Briscoe
Let’s preface this clip with this: Kentucky was 0-for their last-7 from the field in the previous 5+ minutes and Georgia had cut Kentucky’s 13-point lead all the way down to just six with Fox, Monk and Bam Adebayo all on the bench late in the half with two fouls apiece.
With Briscoe and the reserves, the offense was obviously not as explosive as it is with the dynamic freshman duo on the floor, so the ‘Cats needed something going into the half.
Although it appeared Briscoe was using his left hand a little more than he usually does (which is a lot anyway) against UGA, it was his hesitation dribble, drive and left-handed finish that ended Kentucky’s drought of 5:21 without a made field goal that kept the Bulldogs at bay.
(Also, take a guess as to who had the previous made field goal before this Briscoe layup? This is an easy one.)
The next most important bucket in the game
After Briscoe made Kentucky’s first field goal since the Obama administration was in office, Georgia quickly answered with a Tyree Crump 3-pointer that cut the Kentucky lead back down to five with just a few seconds left in the half.
Georgia scored six points inside of the last two minutes and it appeared that the second half was going to bring another thriller between these two teams.
Briscoe got the ‘Cats a little of that early momentum back with a calm, cool and collected jumper that looked a little like Malik Monk when he’s cooking at the free throw line at the end of the half to push the lead back to seven (32-25) at the break.
Briscoe had four points in the first 19+ minutes of the half, but his four points at the end of the first half were four of the most important points in the game and by halting Georgia’s late-half push, it set the tone for the start of the second half.
And just like that, the lead was back up to 12
The game was pretty much over right out of the gate in the second half. De’Aaron Fox went right to the rack on Kentucky’s first possession of the half to push the lead up to nine for the ‘Cats, then Isaiah Briscoe did what Isaiah Briscoe does.
Yante Maten was a non-factor all day in his second game back from the knee injury he suffered against Kentucky in the regular season, and this play from Briscoe just sums up both of their days at the office on Friday afternoon.
Briscoe strips Maten from the post, pushes the ball up the floor to Fox, who swings it back to an open Briscoe from above-the-break 3-pointer that drops. The half wasn’t even a minute old and Kentucky’s lead was already back up to 12 points.
(Also, if you listen closely, you can hear Briscoe call out “SHORT!” on the shot. When it’s your day, it’s your day.)
Last Briscoe 3-pointer was feb. 7. Was 0-for-11 since them— Vaughts' Views (@vaughtsviews) March 10, 2017
At times, Isaiah Briscoe can be the most frustrating of the rotation players for Calipari. Still, he’s the final piece to the puzzle that makes this team connect. Fox is back and healthy, Monk is going to find his groove again, and Adebayo is playing as well as any big in the country right now.
But when the chips are down, it’s going to be Isaiah Briscoe’s fight that keeps Kentucky alive in March.