Oscar Tshiebwe wows his Kentucky basketball teammates

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Game day: Kentucky 85, Georgia 71

Click under for extra of the Herald-Leader’s and Kentucky.com’s protection of Tuesday night time’s males’s basketball sport between Kentucky and Georgia at Rupp Arena in Lexington.

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The newcomers to this Kentucky basketball workforce had seen the stats and heard the tales, however they’d but to see for themselves. Sure, Oscar Tshiebwe had put up some large numbers and made some spectacular performs, however the reigning nationwide participant of the 12 months had but to do something in 12 months two with the Wildcats that fairly lived as much as the legend of final season.

Until Tuesday night time.

“I ain’t by no means seen something like that in my life,” mentioned Antonio Reeves, who transferred to UK from Illinois State final offseason. “… That’s a type of issues, I’m like, ‘Jesus Christ,’ you recognize? It’s loopy.”

What Reeves had simply witnessed was an all-time efficiency by one in every of Kentucky’s most spectacular gamers in reminiscence. Tshiebwe scored 37 factors, grabbed 24 rebounds and led the Cats to an 85-71 comeback victory over Georgia.

Freshman guard Cason Wallace was dedicated to Kentucky all through final season, so he stored shut tabs on the Cats as a highschool senior again house in Texas. He noticed loads of superb Tshiebwe performances on TV. He acquired an up-close take a look at greatness Tuesday night time.

“It was completely different being on the market and taking part in with him,” Wallace mentioned. “You’re simply taking part in, however you lookup and he has the numbers that he has? It’s unspeakable.”

Tshiebwe’s earlier profession excessive was 30 factors. He had finished that thrice as a Wildcat. He matched that quantity with practically six minutes left in Tuesday’s sport.

And, earlier than tonight, what number of occasions previously 45 years had a UK participant recorded a minimum of 24 rebounds in a single sport? It had occurred as soon as. Last season, when Tshiebwe pulled down 28 boards in a victory over Western Kentucky.

With this efficiency, Tshiebwe joined Dan Issel and Cotton Nash as the one gamers within the historical past of this system to document a minimum of 24 rebounds greater than as soon as.

“Oscar was taking part in a online game,” UK Coach John Calipari mentioned afterwards.

He will need to have put in a cheat code at halftime.

Tshiebwe performed simply positive within the opening 20 minutes. He had 14 factors and 9 rebounds on the break, however he was additionally 4-for-11 from the ground, typically forcing pictures on the rim or settling for lengthy jumpers. And, extra importantly, Kentucky trailed Georgia 42-34 on the break.

When the second half started, Tshiebwe pounded the Bulldogs within the paint.

He scored Kentucky’s first 9 factors out of the break, then chased down his personal missed free throw, corralled the offensive rebound, and kicked the ball out to CJ Fredrick, who nailed a three-pointer to present the Cats a 46-45 benefit and get Rupp Arena rocking. It was simply the second lead of the sport for Kentucky — an 11-point favourite coming in — and the Wildcats pulled away a couple of minutes later to beat the Bulldogs and construct on the momentum that began with that surprising victory at No. 5 Tennessee three days earlier.

The win over the Vols got here after an even-more-shocking house loss to South Carolina, a workforce rated because the worst within the Southeastern Conference and a defeat that clearly rattled the Cats.

In the fast aftermath of that loss, Tshiebwe — surrounded by reporters — questioned the “struggle” of a few of his teammates and at one level urged that perhaps a few of UK’s walk-ons ought to play as a substitute of scholarship Wildcats.

Those feedback did not land properly. Tshiebwe later apologized to his teammates.

Calipari has since mentioned that the language barrier confronted by Tshiebwe — a local of the Democratic Republic of Congo who moved to the United States as an adolescent — can generally result in misunderstandings. The Kentucky coach lower off a query on the subject Tuesday night time.

“This child will say stuff and would not actually know what which means,” Calipari defined. “Now, he is very clever. How many languages? Like six. English might be No. 6. … So generally he’ll do stuff like that, and he’ll really feel dangerous. ‘Well I did not understand it meant that.’ ‘Yeah, that is what it means.’ He’s the best child. …

“They wished him to get 50. They wished to win the sport. We’re not taking part in for ourselves, we’re taking part in for one another now. And I’ll inform you that everyone was positive with it. You know why? Because they know him. And they know that he does that often — like says stuff. Like, ‘Where did that come from?’”

Whatever angst may need adopted that loss to South Carolina was changed by awe Tuesday night time. A stat line value repeating: 37 factors and 24 rebounds. Wallace mentioned he’d by no means seen something prefer it. “I do not assume that comes round too typically.”

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Kentucky ahead Oscar Tshiebwe (34) celebrates scoring and drawing a foul towards Georgia Bulldogs throughout Tuesday’s sport at Rupp Arena. Silas Walker swalker@herald-leader.com

Calipari additionally mentioned earlier this month that he had challenged Tshiebwe to get again within the fitness center. The Kentucky coach mentioned he did not assume his star participant was placing as a lot time into his sport as he had final season. And whereas the numbers had been nonetheless nice — 15.9 factors and 13.1 rebounds per sport coming into this one — one thing appeared a bit of off.

“Now you are seeing him be how he was a 12 months in the past,” Calipari mentioned. “Was he that means two weeks in the past? no That’s why I mentioned what I mentioned. Not to be disrespectful or discuss down on Oscar. I really like Oscar. He is aware of I really like teaching him.”

Tshiebwe mentioned Tuesday night time that the preseason knee harm that required surgical procedure and compelled him to overlook a month of observe — plus the Cats’ first two regular-season video games — continued to linger deeper into Kentucky’s schedule. Tshiebwe felt adequate to play, he mentioned, however he did not really feel fairly like himself. He mentioned he wasn’t fairly in the precise place mentally — that he’d by no means had a surgical procedure like that earlier than and the consequences brought about him to second-guess his actions on the court docket. Instead of simply taking part in — as he was used to — he would assume twice when leaping and slicing.

Now, he mentioned, he is feeling just like the Oscar Tshiebwe who dominated faculty basketball final season. Now, he mentioned, he is prepared to maneuver ahead with this season and attempt to construct on the momentum he and his teammates have discovered over the previous week.

“Now,” he mentioned, after Tuesday night time’s profession efficiency, “I’m again.”

Next sport

Texas A&M at Kentucky

When: 2 pm Saturday

TV: ESPN

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

Records: Texas A&M 12-5 (4-0 SEC), Kentucky 12-6 (3-3 SEC)

Series: Kentucky leads 12-4

Last assembly: Kentucky received 64-58 on Jan. 19, 2022, in College Station, Texas

This story was initially revealed January 18, 2023 1:37 AM.

Ben Roberts is the University of Kentucky males’s basketball beat author for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He has beforehand specialised in UK basketball recruiting protection and created and maintained the Next Cats weblog. He is a Franklin County native and first joined the Herald-Leader in 2006.
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