By LARRY VAUGHT
Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon, a former Alabama assistant, said it was easy to tell Sunday night that Isaiah Briscoe was a veteran player.
“Overall, what stood out was that he was physical and his aggressiveness. So, I thought his poise while he did that … Sometimes, you know, it’s difficult to arrive at that kind of balance where you’re aggressive, you’re physical, but you’re still poised and I thought he played that way for them,” Witherspoon said.
Briscoe had a career-high 21 points on 9-for-13 shooting, five rebounds, two assists and one steal in Sunday’s 93-69 win over Canisius.
Early in the game UK fell behind 9-2 and then Briscoe took over by powering his way inside to score to jump start the offense.
“I could tell when we weren’t hitting shots. When we came out sluggish, I knew that was when I had to keep us in the game and then the second half everybody got loose and then we were just playing how we play,” Briscoe said.
Freshman De’Aaron Fox also had 21 points but he had no doubt about the role Briscoe played in the win.
“He just took over. He did what a leader’s supposed to do. He knows what’s going on. He’s been in adversity before here. We haven’t faced it yet. He stepped up and then we just followed his lead,” Fox said.
Freshman Bam Adebayo, who had a double-double Sunday, said Briscoe’s experience makes him the team’s clear leader and teammates are more than willing to follow.
“We just depend on Isaiah. We all have to go out at the right time and ball. We’re a team and Isaiah is going to get a lot of shots because he’s our leader. Other than that, we just have to follow behind him and get in rhythm,” Adebayo said.
Briscoe thought this would be his role when he opted to come back to UK for a second season and take his name out of the NBA draft.
“That was the whole point of me coming back, just trying to lead these young guys. Keep them on the right track and keep them focused,” Briscoe said after Sunday’s win. “I was just doing whatever I needed to do to keep my team in the game.”
Briscoe said he told teammates not to panic when Canisius went ahead 9-2 early in the game.
“Teams are going to make their runs. Just keep calm. Everything will come back to reality within like 10 or 12 minutes. They came out shooting the ball well. They were on fire. Give credit to those guys, but we made our run towards the end of the half, which was big for us. Going up nine, we just took off from there,” Briscoe said.
Calipari said Briscoe is the last player to leave practice daily and always gets up extra shots to try and correct his biggest weakness from last year.
“You build your own self-esteem, self-confidence, you build that will. You don’t surrender because you’ve invested too much. If you don’t invest anything in this game, you’ll surrender. Then you’ll make an excuse and then the people around you will enable you, tell you you’re right, it was somebody else, he takes you out, but he doesn’t take him out. When you work and invest, you will not surrender, you will not listen to any of that, you’ll be, I’m getting this done,” Briscoe said.
“It doesn’t mean you’ll win every time, but most of the time you just run out of time. You would have won if the game was another two minutes, you just ran out of time. And that’s how I need this entire team to play”