Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe goes low to work on offense, but not in response to Huggins

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  • Kentucky Wildcats
    Kentucky Wildcats
  • Oscar Tshiebwe
    Congolese basketball player

Oscar Tshiebwe and associate coach Orlando Antigua were on the Rupp Arena court more than two hours before Kentucky played Ohio last Friday.

That the two stayed in the shadow of the basket for the extended drill said something about how Kentucky values low-post offense.

“Oh, it’s huge,” Antigua said Wednesday when asked about the importance of low-post offense. “You have to have an inside presence because on certain nights you’re not going to be able to make (perimeter) shots.”

On one low block and then the other, Tshiebwe received passes from Antigua, who stood about 10 feet away.

On one side, Tshiebwe dipped a shoulder toward the lane, then pivoted toward the baseline and banked in shots.

On the other side, Tshiebwe turned into the lane and shot what in basketball parlance are called baby hooks.

“The baby hook (is) Hakeem Olajuwon,” Tshiebwe said Wednesday. “That’s my favorite one.”

Tshiebwe made most of the bank shots and baby hooks in the warm-up.

But in games, he can seem indecisive after catching the ball while standing in the low-post area.

“He’s got a lot going on in his head,” said Antigua, a center as a high school player. “(He needs to) simplify it. You don’t need to be over-complicated. Just get to a spot. Get to your hooks. Once they figure out how to stop that, then you counter it. That’s it. You shouldn’t have 13 things going on in your head.”

Tshiebwe pleaded guilty.

“He’s right,” the big man transfer from West Virginia said. “Before I used to speed it up. Catch the ball, try to make your move so fast. Run through people.

“Right now, (when I) catch the ball, I have one, two, three looks and then make your move.”

In that time, the opposition has time to double- or triple-team the low post. Tshiebwe spoke of the need to pass to an open teammate.

This is not a familiar sequence.

“If you watched me play at West Virginia . . . , I don’t care who’s coming,” Tshiebwe said. “I’ll take everybody up with me. But (UK) coaches say this is not West Virginia. When three people come, kick it out. . . . This is about basketball IQ. I’m learning a lot.”

Another example of learning on the fly involves officiating. Early foul trouble plagued Tshiebwe in each of Kentucky’s last two games.

After each game, UK Coach John Calipari hinted at defenders exaggerating the contact initiated by Tshiebwe and referees being sympathetic to smaller players. After UK beat Albany, Calipari said Tshiebwe’s 255 pounds should be an asset, but it can benefit smaller defenders.

Tshiebwe echoed that sentiment.

“When you go up against somebody little, they fake like you pushed them . . . ,” said Tshiebwe, who added that he should be more pragmatic about when to go after rebounds. “Like Coach (Calipari) told me, we really want you to grab everything. But sometimes if there’s a rebound you can’t get, just give it up. It’s not the Super Bowl. We’re going to get a rebound on the next possession.”

But, of course, the opposition will try to thwart Tshiebwe’s desire to rebound.

“Some players, especially guards, they’ll run up to me,” he said. “Sometimes I just stand. They run up to me, they do that (he threw his arms up and leaned backward). The referee sees that. They always call (a foul).”

Yes, Tshiebwe said with a smile, he has noticed fans holding up signs adorned with the letter “R” each time he grabs a rebound. And, yes, he added, he can hear the Rupp Arena crowd react when he grabs a rebound.

“I hear that all the time,” he said. “That is the crazy thing. Like, I love that because it’s not every school that celebrates when someone gets a rebound. That gives me motivation.”

Tshiebwe leads the nation in averages for rebounds and offensive rebounds. But not all the reaction to his play has been positive.

Recently, in defending his demanding coaching style, West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins referred to Tshiebwe as an “alleged McDonald’s All-American.”

Tshiebwe declined to respond directly to the comment.

“He’s a great coach,” Tshiebwe said of Huggins. “And I know I always work harder, and I’m always trying to get better. Just because things don’t go right doesn’t mean you quit. . . . I can’t say anything about Bob Huggins, who is a good coach, who coached me and did everything for me and tried to help me.”


North Florida at No. 10 Kentucky

When: 7 p.m.

TV: SEC Network

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

Records: North Florida 1-5, Kentucky 4-1

Series: First meeting

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