Oscar carries Cats to win over Yale

Published 5:14 pm Monday, December 12, 2022

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Kentucky Today

The Kentucky senior and reigning college basketball player of the year scored a season-high 28 points, including 22 in the second half, to lead the No. 16 Wildcats to a 69-59 win over Yale on Saturday.

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His breakthrough came after the Bulldogs (8-3) scored the first eight points of the second half and that’s when the Wildcats (7-2) gave the ball to Tshiebwe in the post. Tshiebwe scored 11 straight and 16 of the team’s first 20 points of the second half to help the Wildcats regain control and stay in the lead.

“We needed that,” Tshiebwe said. “I kept telling (my teammates) to give me the ball. If they are going to double-team me, I am going to kick it out. When they didn’t double-teamed me, I was going to work, because they couldn’t stop me. It was good for us. I figured out they couldn’t guard me.”

Once his teammates figured out Tshiebwe was the answer in the post, it allowed the senior forward to spread the wealth down the stretch.

“It was easy when they threw the ball inside,” he said. “It opened up for me and opened up for (my teammates).”

Kentucky coach John Calipari said Tshiebwe became more aggressive in the the second half after scoring just six points in the first 20 minutes.

“He didn’t demand the ball,” the Kentucky coach said. “He was passive aggressive, quick, passing the ball — score the ball. They can’t guard you. Then I told the other guys, we’ve got to throw him the ball. You guys are driving and he’s in the middle wide open. Throw him the ball. “

Following his impressive showing, Tshiebwe regained the Most Impressive Player honors from teammate Jacon Toppin, who was awarded the belt following his performance in a 73-69 win over Michigan in London, England last Sunday.

“I just took it from Jacob from London and before Sahvir (Wheeler) took it from me,” he said. “I’m excited to get it back, so I’ve got to just keep fighting every game.”

Earlier this week, Calipari said Tshiebwe was playing at “85 percent” coming off minor knee surgery during the off-season. Tshiebwe stepped it up Saturday.

“I think I jumped up to 95 percent,” he said. “We’re just working and it takes a lot of time and thank God it’s working. I’ve never had an injury before and I don’t think about my knee too much (or) anymore and I’m getting back to where used to be. My mind is clear, I don’t about it no more. I’m just ‘hoopin’.”

The long flight from London and jet lag didn’t appear to bother Tshiebwe, either.

“We fought pretty well (through that),” he said. “For me I don’t think it was a big issue. Things are back to normal and we’re good.”

Tshiebwe and his teammates will get three days off before preparing to take on No. 19 UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic Saturday in New York, which will be Tshiebwe’s first appearance in Madison Square Garden.

“I’m excited,” Tshiebwe said. “They have a good team and we have a good team, too, and we have to go fight, that’s the key to the whole game.”