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Kentucky newcomer Tshiebwe: ‘I’m going for 20 and 20.’ He’s off to a good start.

·4 min read

How productive was Oscar Tshiebwe in Kentucky’s Blue-White Game on Friday night? His play obscured a player who had 20 points and 10 rebounds.

When asked about Tshiebwe, UK Coach John Calipari responded with a telling question. “How about Lance had 20 and 10 against him?”

In the annual stat bonanza that is the Blue-White Game, Lance Ware had the secondary double-double.

Tshiebwe scored 25 points and grabbed 21 rebounds. The transfer “big” from West Virginia had said he wants to average 20 rebounds per game this coming season. So, his casual reaction to 25 and 21 seemed fitting.

Did he expect such a stat line? “Yes,” he said. “I tell Coach, I’m going for 20 and 20.”

Another answer in the affirmative came when Tshiebwe was asked if he can lead the nation in rebounding.

“I think pretty high,” he said. “I tell (other players) get away, get away. That’s my ball. That’s my money. That’s how I’m making money: grabbing the rebounds. I just got to fight.”

In saluting Tshiebwe, Calipari mentioned his practice sparring partner: Ware.

“The good news for him is he’s got to go against Lance,” the UK coach said. “Good news for Lance is he gets to go against Oscar. The bad news is he’s got to go against Oscar.”

Both Tshiebwe and Ware spoke of the benefit of practice competition.

“We’re the happiest guys on the court every practice,” Ware said.

Ware conceded that weighing 30 pounds less than Tshiebwe is a disadvantage he can offset by jumping higher.

Calipari applied a familiar bugaboo — one-handed rebounds — to Tshiebwe. Otherwise, he pointed out that the big man is more than muscle.

“Did you see how fast he runs?” Calipari asked. “How nimble his feet are for 255 (pounds)?

“Oscar is who he is. We may not get that much (from him) every game. Let me just say this to you: somebody’s got to play the guy.”

The “bigs” were not the only veterans who stood out.

Sahvir Wheeler, the 5-foot-9 transfer from Georgia seen as a point guard leader, had 11 assists. He also had five turnovers, which Calipari addressed.

“The trouble he gets into is he got too deep,” the UK coach said, meaning close to the basket. “If you get that deep at his size, you’ve got to keep going.”

Calipari then said he loved how Wheeler listens to coaching advice and adjusts.

Another veteran, Keion Brooks, played for both teams at various stages of the game. He finished with 20 points.

Freshman TyTy Washington scored 12 points for each team. He also had a 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio: 10 assists and two turnovers.

As Tshiebwe and Ware benefit from competition, Calipari suggested the same applies to Wheeler and Washington.

In a recent scrimmage face-off against Wheeler, “his team won and he didn’t take one shot,” Calipari said of Washington. “He just plays the game.”

Another freshman, Daimion Collins, totaled 22 points.

It didn’t take long for veterans and freshmen to make an impression.

Tshiebwe came within a rebound of a double-double in the first half. He finished the half with 15 points and nine rebounds.

Wheeler, the player counted upon to give Kentucky the consistent point guard play missing last season, looked the part. He had nine points and seven assists in the first half. He completed the half in memorable fashion. His whipped cross-court pass netted Tshiebwe a layup.

Then after Ware dunked with three seconds left, Wheeler two-handed a “shot” from beyond half-court that banked in. The crowd oohed, but the launch came after the buzzer.

As for the freshmen, Washington had 14 points by halftime.

As for three-point shooting, the teams combined to make 18 of 46 three-point shots (39.6-percent accuracy).

Nine players made at least one three. Freshmen Bryce Hopkins and Collins led the way with three each.

In terms of the Blue-White Game being a gauge for regular-season performance, the record is mixed.

In 2015, Tyler Ulis had 15 assists in the Blue-White Game. He was the SEC’s Player of the Year for the 2015-16 season.

Immanuel Quickley did much the same. He scored 25 points in the 2019 Blue-White Game, then became the coaches’ pick for SEC Player of the Year.

At the other end of the spectrum, Nick Richards had seven blocks in 2019 and eye-catching double-doubles in 2018 (16 points and 16 rebounds) and 2019 (20 points and 11 rebounds). Yet, as much as fans wanted it, he never reached stardom.

Skal Labissiere, who struggled to establish himself, had 18 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in the 2019 Blue-White Game.

Important upcoming UK dates

Oct. 29: Exhibition vs. Kentucky Wesleyan (7 p.m., SEC Network)

Nov. 5: Exhibition vs. Miles College (7 p.m., SEC Network)

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