So, of course, the No. 2 Wildcats turned to one of their most experienced players to help turn a one-point deficit late in the first half into a deceptively routine 93-69 win over Canisius on Sunday night at Rupp Arena.
Sophomore combo guard Isaiah Briscoe scored seven of his career-high 21 points during a 13-2 run that sent Kentucky into the locker room with a 44-35 advantage after trailing for almost 10 minutes of the opening half.
"Isaiah was the man," UK head coach John Calipari said. "What he did was, he just willed us when we were dying. He just said, look, I'm not settling. I'm going to get something at the rim, made his free throws."
Briscoe shrugged off the praise. "I just did what we needed at that particular time," the New Jersey native said.
His aggressiveness seemed contagious. Kentucky shot 57 percent in the second half while holding Canisius to 37 percent. The Cats used an 18-3 run midway through the second half to take a 73-49 lead and put the game away.
Kentucky (2-0) also got double-figure scoring from the freshman trio of De'Aaron Fox (21), Malik Monk (16) and Bam Adebayo (14). The latter pulled down 11 rebounds and blocked three shots for the first of what is expected to be many double-doubles with the Cats.
Kassius Robertson led Canisius (0-1) with 16 points. The Golden Griffins also got 13 points from Jermaine Crumpton and 12 points from Phil Valenti.
In this All Wildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we take a closer look at the game...
WHAT WE LIKED:
Kentucky showed poise despite being unable to put its MAAC opponent away early. After missing all seven of their 3-point attempts and several other jumpers in the first half, the Cats started doing what they do best -- putting the ball on the deck and driving hard to the basket. "Speed and quickness," Canisius head coach Reggie Witherspoon said of the UK backcourt that combined for 58 points and made only two 3-pointers between them. "If you’re a little bit out of position, they’re at the rim." The perimeter shooting will need to improve, but it's good to see the young Cats know where their bread is buttered.
Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky -- Briscoe made eight of his first nine shots from the field to set up his career night. His previous scoring high came last season with 20 points in a loss at UCLA. He also made three of his four free throws and chipped in with five rebounds and two assists.
BY THE NUMBERS:
2 - Only one bucket for UK senior wing Derek Willis after leading the Cats with 17 on Friday.
2 for 2 - Kentucky has shot 50 percent or better in both games to start the season.
9 of 9 - De'Aaron Fox with a perfect night at the free throw line.
39-36 - Slim rebounding advantage for the Cats.
22,009 - Attendance at Rupp Arena for a Sunday evening tipoff.
"We got to get better defensively. These high-level games -- Michigan State, Kansas, UCLA, later Louisville, Arizona State. These high-level games, you're not winning those games unless you're guarding and rebounding. We out-rebounded them -- and they were much smaller -- by three rebounds. Come on. So for the year now, we're down five rebounds." -- UK head coach John Calipari.
Kentucky returns to action on Tuesday against Michigan State in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Spartans (0-1) opened the season with a 65-63 loss to No. 10 Arizona in their opener. Tipoff for UK-MSU is slated for 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.