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Oscar Tshiebwe tabbed to Lute Olson Midseason watch list

Junior forward leads the country in rebounding; leads the Wildcats in scoring as well
Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe (34) shoots over Notre Dame's Paul Atkinson Jr. (20) during the first...
Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe (34) shoots over Notre Dame's Paul Atkinson Jr. (20) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)(Robert Franklin | AP)
Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 3:38 PM EST
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BOSTON – Make no mistake about it, Kentucky junior forward Oscar Tshiebwe is firmly in the discussion for National Player of the Year honors. Tshiebwe was named to the Lute Olson Watch List for its player of the year award, which marks the second midseason honor for the Wildcats’ leading scorer and the nation’s best rebounder.

Tshiebwe was also tabbed to the John R. Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 Watch List earlier this month.

The Lute Olson Award has been given annually since 2010. No Wildcat has ever claimed the honor. Previous winners include Kemba Walker (2011), Ja Morant (2019) and last year’s recipient, Luka Garza of Iowa.

Tshiebwe has made a national name for himself with rebounding numbers that haven’t been seen in decades at the Division I college basketball level.

Through games on Jan. 11, Tshiebwe led the country in rebounds per game (15.1), offensive rebounds per game (5.3) and defensive rebounding percentage (36.0). He also leads the Wildcats in scoring with 17.0 points per game and ranks second nationally with 12 double-doubles.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo native has recorded four 20-rebound performances. No other player in the county has more than one.

Included in his four 20-rebound games was a record-setting 28-board performance in a dominating win over Western Kentucky. The 28 boards crushed the Rupp Arena record of 21 previously held by Shaquille O’Neal.

Not only did Tshiebwe record more rebounds than WKU’s entire team – and against the tallest player in the country, Jamarion Sharp, who stands at 7-foot-5 – his total tied for the sixth-most rebounds in UK history and the most in more than 45 years, when Mike Phillips corralled 28 caroms in an overtime game vs. Tennessee on Jan. 10, 1976. They are the most for a Wildcat in a regulation-length game in more than 52 years, when Dan Issel grabbed 29 rebounds vs. LSU on February 22, 1969. According to STATS, his 28 rebounds are also the most in Division I college basketball since Kendall Gray from Delaware State recorded 30 at Coppin State on March 5, 2015.

Tshiebwe is looking to become the first Division I player to average at least 15.0 points per game and at least 15.0 rebounds per game since Drake’s Lewis Lloyd and Alcorn State’s Larry Smith each did during the 1979-80 season.

The last UK player to average at least 14.0 rebounds per game in a season was Ed Beck in 1956-57. Bob Burrow owns the Kentucky single-season record of 17.7 rebounds per game, which was set during the 1954-55 season. Only two players under John Calipari have averaged double-figures rebounds for a season: Anthony Davis (2012) and Julius Randle (2014) both hauled in 10.4 per game.

Put another way, Tshiebwe is responsible for 34.7% of all of UK’s rebounds this season. Taking away team rebounds, that percentage jumps to 38.1%.

The 255-pound forward is no pushover offensively either. With improved post work and the second-chance opportunities he is creating for himself on the glass, Tshiebwe is shooting 62.7% from the floor and has scored 20 or more points six times, including a career-high 30 points at Vanderbilt on Tuesday. He was the first UK player to tally a 30-point, 10-rebound game since Patrick Patterson had 33 points and 11 rebounds against Tennessee State on Dec. 22, 2008. Tshiebwe is also the first Wildcat to score at least 29 points in consecutive Southeastern Conference games since Kenny Walker in February 1985.

Tshiebwe was named the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and the NCAA March Madness National Player of the Week by Andy Katz. He was also named the SEC Co-Player of the Week on Dec. 27.

The Lute Olson Award, which is presented annually to the top player in Division I college basketball, is named in honor of Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson, who won 776 games in 34 seasons, 24 of which were spent at the University of Arizona. During that stretch he led the Wildcats to 11 Pac-10 Conference titles, 23 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, four Final Four appearances and a national championship in 1997.

Tshiebwe and the Wildcats return to Rupp Arena on Saturday to host Tennessee at 1 p.m. The game will be televised by ESPN.