Tshiebwe scores career-high 30 points to lead UK over Vanderbilt

Oscar Tshiebwe became the first Wildcat with at least 30-points and 10-rebounds in a game since Patrick Patterson in 2008

NASHVILLE, TN (WTVQ/UK ATHLETICS)  – Oscar Tshiebwe scored a career-high 30 points and had 13 rebounds as 18th-ranked Kentucky routed Vanderbilt 78-66 on Tuesday night for its second straight win.

The Wildcats (13-3, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) won their 11th straight in the series, and coach John Calipari improved to 22-4 against Vanderbilt with his 797th overall victory.

Tshiebwe came in leading the nation in rebounding and second in double-doubles; this was his 12th. He became the first Kentucky player with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in a game since Patrick Patterson had 33 points and 11 rebounds against Tennessee State on Dec. 22, 2008.

TyTy Washington Jr. added 15 points for Kentucky.

Vanderbilt (9-5, 1-2) lost its second straight. The Commodores’ first two SEC games were decided by a combined three points, and Kentucky swept last season’s series by total of seven points.

Scotty Pippen Jr., the SEC’s leading scorer, nearly matched his average with 17 points by halftime. He finished with 32. But junior Jordan Wright was held scoreless for the first time this season after averaging 12.7 points a game for Vanderbilt. Trey Thomas added 14 for the Commodores.

Vanderbilt never got closer than a tie at 22 after an 11-0 run early.

Kentucky answered Vandy’s run with 14 straight points, pushing the lead back to double digits. Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse, now 1-7 against AP Top 25 teams, slammed a clipboard during a timeout.

Tshiebwe scored five of the final seven points as Kentucky led 41-27 at halftime.

The Wildcats led by as much as 78-50 with 6:14 left. The only thing that kept Vandy from allowing a season high in points was finishing the game on a 16-0 run with Kentucky missing its final seven shots.

Enough Wildcats fans filled Memorial Gym that it felt a bit like Rupp Arena South, especially when they chanted ”Go Big Blue” repeatedly.

Commodores fans weren’t happy students weren’t allowed at this game with university officials limiting in-person activities until Jan. 24 amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. Plenty of Kentucky blue sprinkled the student section that had gold shakers at each seat waiting to be used.

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats rested point guard Sahvir Wheeler, who remains day to day after hurting his neck a week ago in their loss at LSU. The junior wasn’t needed, giving him more time to rest up before Saturday’s home game with Tennessee. … Davion Mintz, the Wildcats’ leading scorer last season, made his first start this season and finished with nine points.

Vanderbilt: The Commodores came in 23rd in turnovers forced and 42nd in scoring defense, holding opponents to 62.4 points a game. They forced only nine turnovers, four in the final 6:14 with the game decided.

To view the game’s box score, click here.

UP NEXT

Kentucky returns home to host No. 22 Tennessee on Saturday.

Vanderbilt visits Georgia on Saturday.

Postgame comments compiled by UK Athletics:

Head Coach John Calipari:

On Oscar Tshiebwe …
“Well, we had a game a couple of games ago where he graded out on his sprints the worst he had all season, and so now I am focused on him running that court. It puts him ahead of the action. It means he’s not going to foul. He’s going to get some easy ones. He’s in a great position to rebound. But here’s the other thing I like: The way the team’s finding him and passing him the ball. Think about it now. As much of it is that they’re throwing it, and the biggest thing is a couple of games ago he didn’t catch them. Like, he was leaving. So, we’ve got to go back and work on things with him. Do you remember early in the year? He couldn’t make two-footers, would offensive rebound and throw it out. Now he’s shooting jumpers, making free throws. I don’t want him to dribble the ball up the court. Not doing that. But, really happy to see how he’s playing. But Keion (Brooks Jr.) played well. Davion (Mintz) played well. TyTy (Washington Jr.) in the middle of the court in pick-and-rolls was a bear. I thought Jacob (Toppin) fought. Daimion (Collins). How about Bryce (Hopkins)? We need Bryce. But I can’t accept him going in the game and the game’s faster than him. Then you can’t be in, and that means you’ve got to practice and prepare with unbelievable energy so you can play that way and then make easy plays. You don’t need to go and do crazy stuff. You just don’t need too. You’re trying to get minutes and get on the floor and we need him out there.”

On how the team finished the game and if having Sahvir Wheeler would have changed that …
“I don’t know. I’ll have to watch the tape. But I knew it was, you know, I subbed. I put the starters back in. Come on, I’m not leaving guys in. Then the starters didn’t do much better. We let go of the rope. It’s something that we’ve got to get better at. When you get up as many as we got up on them, in this building? I don’t know. I don’t think any of my teams have had a 25-point lead. I don’t think so. Eric, (Lindsey) do you think they’ve had? At any point? [Eric Lindsey: You’ve trailed by double digits a lot of times in this place.] Yeah. Like we’re trying to win a game. But how about this: play fast and have nine turnovers? Multiple passes every time down. Everybody that calls me says, ‘I’m loving this team because they pass. They find each other. They move the ball.’ Well, every time you pass it there’s a chance for a turnover, and then the nine we had we had two in the last two minutes. Like I said, we’re getting better. It’s got to be all of us, really great execution and then defensively you’ve got to fight and have team rebounds. I mean, we’ve got hard games coming up. Hard games.”

On the unselfish play of this team …
“Well, they’re veterans, a bunch of them and they’ve played. So, they know you can’t every time you touch it try to make a play. Now when you’re in high school, Larry (Vaught), how do you play? That way. So, it takes high school guys longer to understand you’re better off with the ball moving. It’s an easier game for everybody and it should be pop, pop, drive, pop, pop, pop, lob. I mean, that’s the kind of stuff that we’re looking for and it takes time. We’ve got great kids. You can’t listen to the clutter. If you listen to the clutter, you’re going to try and make a play every time to show (your stuff). You can’t listen to it. Just be part of our team. The biggest thing I liked, I thought we defended our butts off early in the game. I don’t know what the final was, they got over 42(%), but it was 35% for a while, you know? And that’s what we want.”

#12, Keion Brooks Jr., Jr., F

On if Oscar Tshiebwe still surprises them …
“There was actually a moment on the bench, and I can’t remember who I was talking to — it might’ve been Lance (Ware) or Bryce (Hopkins) – but I was like, ‘Yo, Oscar is really good.’ It wasn’t the fact we were surprised, but sometimes you’ve got to take the time to appreciate what somebody does. Oscar has been tremendous for us all year. He’s playing exceptionally well. We’ve been doing a good job getting him the ball. When he gets it, he scores just about every time. Oscar’s been doing everything we ask of him.”

On not scoring the final six minutes of the game …
“We’ve got to continue to stay disciplined no matter what our lead is. Sometimes it’s just the way the game goes. There were some times we got some good looks down at that little stretch and just didn’t make them. They didn’t stop playing and continued to play hard. But we’ve got to hash that out, watch some film and see what we can do better and go from there.”

On needing to win a game on the road …
“You take any win on the road that you can. Even though we had a great crowd and they were out there being excited for us, it still wasn’t an easy environment to play in. They had a good group of people there for them as well. You’ve got to take every win you can and we’ve got to keep building on this day by day and eventually we’ll come across a true road game and we’ll try to win that one as well.”

On how the past two games can help them when Sahvir Wheeler comes back …
“It’ll take some of the load off of him to do so much. What he does for us is exceptional and can’t nobody else really do. But he can’t play the whole game every single game, so when there are spells when he needs to get out or is tired, we can trust Davion (Mintz) or TyTy (Washington Jr.) to run the point and get things done for us. We’ve all fallen into a new role a little bit with Sahvir being out, but everybody stepped up and done a great job with it.”

On his energy and being more comfortable in his third season …
“I just want to go in every day and try to build on the next day. That’s playing hard, having energy, doing the stuff that everyone doesn’t want to do. Coach has really been on me to make sure I play with high energy and continue that throughout the whole game. I just need to use my God-given gifts, my length, speed and athleticism to go out and make plays. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help the team win, whether that be rebounding, defending, scoring a basket, whatever I have to do to help the team win.”

#34 Oscar Tshiebwe Jr., F

On if he ever thought he would be able to score 30 points in a game …
“No, I never had a dream about scoring 30 points in a game. It just happened. The team, they’re helping me. They look at me down there and I showed them I can do things. I can score to help the team. I can do a lot of different things. It was good to finish with 30 points, but I have an ability down in the post to finish. That’s what helped me and making free throws. That was a good thing.”

On staying a long time on the court last game to sign autographs …
“Those fans, we’ve got to do whatever we’ve got to do for them because without them we can’t do anything. Like today, that gym was packed. I thought this gym was going to be packed with Vandy fans, but no Vandy – (it was) our fans. So, if they sacrificed to follow us wherever we go, then we have to do something for them. We cannot just get up and go when the people need something, especially the little kids. I love spending time with little kids. I can do anything for those kids because they come into the game, we are their examples for what we do because they want to do that one day too. So, we’ve got to show them good things to follow so when they grow up, they can grow up as good examples.”

On being more decisive in the post …
“It is about confidence. They give me much confidence. Coach says, ‘If you’re one-on-one in the post, finish the ball. If you are one-on-one, shoot it. Double team, look for your teammates.’ And they trust me. I can do a lot of different things. They come down and look for me. From the beginning of the season to now, I’ve got a lot of confidence now. I can see the floor really good when I’ve got the ball. I just stayed positive, and you’ve got to know the game of basketball. I’ve just got a lot of confidence and I think I’ve grown a little bit since the beginning of the season.”

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