Antonio Reeves scored 22 points and Oscar Tshiebwe pulled down 25 rebounds in an overpowering display, helping Kentucky beat Providence 61-53 in Friday night’s first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Tshiebwe’s rebounding work was the second-most in the tournament since 1973, and 11 of his rebounds came on the offensive glass — a big factor in the sixth-seeded Wildcats (22-11) staying in control as both offenses grinded to a halt after halftime.
Reeves hit eight shots, five of which came from 3-point range, equaling a game-high 22 points. Tshiebwe scored just eight, but snagged a whopping 25 boards — the postseason single-game program record — asserting the dominance that Big Blue Nation has come to know and love.
Both teams shot 36 percent from the floor, but a stout and focused defensive effort halted any chance of an upset win for Providence.
“I told all my teammates, I told them, I said this year we come in and fight. Last year doesn’t matter anymore,” Tshiebwe said. “This tournament is about fighting. It’s about who fights the most. That’s the one who is going to keep moving. So we came in with the mentality, and we forget the past, and we’re just fighting right now.”
Forward Bryce Hopkins — who had fielded seemingly hundreds of questions about facing his former team in the lead-up to the game — attempted to set his tone, fleeing to the rack for a transition layup, plus a foul on CJ Fredrick.
The Wildcats (21-11) have had a week since their SEC Tournament quarterfinal loss to rest. Guard Sahvir Wheeler, out since Feb. 4, is expected to be available Friday. Injuries to fellow backcourt mates CJ Fredrick (ribs) and Cason Wallace (leg) linger, though both played in the loss to Vanderbilt. Senior forward Jacob Toppin battled an issue with his hamstring last week, too.
Wheeler continues to sit out
Sahvir Wheeler was expected to play in this one after practicing all week, but he did not take the floor in this one.
John Calipari announced before the game that Wheeler was only 70-75% and would not play. There has been speculation for several weeks that Wheeler has played his last game in a Kentucky uniform, and it feels more likely by the day.
Wheeler has not played since February 4th. He suspiciously missed Senior Day due to tailbone surgery after being out due to an ankle injury. Big Blue Nation wondered why the surgery had to happen that morning, but Calipari insisted he’d play again this season.
After supposedly practicing in full all week and still not playing, it’s looking like the conspiracy theorists may have been right and Wheeler has played his last game for the Cats.
Oscar Tshiebwe Makes History
What else can you say? Oscar Tshiebwe. Sure, we’ve all had our issues with Tshiebwe this year. His defense was bad and the surgery clearly affected his athleticism, at least early on.
However, the reigning National Player of the Year looked like his vintage self on the glass. With a Kentucky NCAA Tournament-record 25 rebounds, Big O also became the first player in Kentucky basketball history with multiple 15+ rebound games in the tournament. The man refused to lose again in the first round after last year’s debacle.
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