Tshiebwe’s historic career possibly comes to an end

Published 3:59 pm Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Kansas State coach Jerome Tang paid Oscar Tshiebwe the ultimate compliment Sunday.

“We knew that Oscar was going to get his, but we had to control everybody else,” Tang said after Kansas State beat Kentucky 75-69 in the NCAA Tournament even though Tshiebwe had 25 points and 18 rebounds — his 20th double-double of the season.

It was just another in a long list of dominant performances the last two seasons for Tshiebwe, the 2021-22 unanimous national player of the year and an all-American again this season.

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If Sunday turns out to be his final game in a Kentucky uniform for Tshiebwe, it has been a memorable ride for many, many reasons.

Look at some of what he’s done since transferring from West Virginia to Kentucky:

• His 48 double-doubles in 66 UK games are second-most in school history.

• Only SEC player in the last 25 years to have multiple seasons of 20 or more double-doubles.

• Sunday was his second game this season with at least 25 points and 15 rebounds.

• In three NCAA Tournament games at Kentucky, Tshiebwe averaged 21 points and 19.7 rebounds per game.

• Has 1,117 points in two UK seasons and became the 48th player in UK history to reach 1,100 points.

• His 952 rebounds in 66 games at UK set the school record for rebounding average with 14.4 per game (previous record was 13.4 boards per game by Cliff Hagan in the early 1950s).

• His 952 rebounds moved him ahead of Kenny Walker (942) for sixth place on the UK career rebound list.

• On and off the court, he became a fan favorite. He often stayed after games to sign autographs and take photos for fans. He never missed a chance to talk about his faith or visit a church/school to tell his story.

• Despite his success, his humility always resonated with Kentucky fans. Even after Sunday’s game, he was thinking about UK fans.

“Thank you very much to Big Blue Nation. Stay strong. This program is built for greatness. We want them to stay strong. Sometimes God allows something to happen so you can learn from that,” Tshiebwe said. “I’m sorry to the BBN because I came here to do something great. Two years in a row it did not happen. I’m very happy to be part of Kentucky.”

Tshiebwe was visibly upset after the loss. He sat on a chair with his shirt off facing his locker while media members gathered behind him. Finally freshman teammate Ugonna Onyenso came and talked softly to the senior.

“I was feeling bad. My mind was just running,” Tshiebwe said. “He said, ‘You got people (media) waiting for you.’ He told me people were waiting and I needed to just turn around and answer questions. It was hard. I didn’t even know what to talk about.”

Tshiebwe said he felt the Wildcats “did our best” to win the game and he was coping okay with his feelings.

“We struggled a little bit on offense making shots. If we were making a couple of these shots it could have helped us,” Tshiebwe said. “This day was crazy. I thought we were going to win this game. I just thank God. Everything happens for a reason.”

He said it was a “dream” to play at Kentucky for two years.

“I am very appreciative. I thank everybody for the opportunity,” Tshiebwe said. “We went through a lot. Many good things, couple bad things happen. We had a lot of fun.”

Tshiebwe averaged 16.5 points and 13.7 rebounds per game, both team highs, this season while shooting 56 percent from the field and 72.9 percent from the foul line. He was second on the team with 52 steals and led the team with 32 blocks. He even had 50 assists.

He could return to Kentucky for another season if he wanted to delay starting a professional career.

“I don’t know about that. Right now I don’t know,” he said.