Kentucky junior forward Oscar Tshiebwe leads the country in rebounding and is the only major conference player averaging at least 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. For those efforts, he was one of 10 players selected as a semifinalist for the Naismith Men’s Defensive Player of the Year Award.
He was joined on the semifinalist list by Tari Eason (LSU), Jacob Gilyard (Richmond), Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga), Walker Kessler (Auburn), Christian Koloko (Arizona), Caleb McConnell (Rutgers), Kevin McCullar (Texas Tech), Jamarion Sharp (Western Kentucky) and Mark Williams (Duke).
The award has been in existence since 2018 and since that time no UK player has earned the honor.
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 Feb. 26, Tshiebwe led the country in rebounds per game (15.3), offensive rebounds per game (5.3), offensive rebounding percentage (20.2%) and defensive rebounding percentage (35.0%).
Tshiebwe has five 20 or more rebounding efforts, tying Blake Griffin and Tim Duncan for the most by a major-conference player since 1996-97. Only one other player has at least two such games.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo native has amassed 445 total rebounds on the season, 55 more than the next closest player this season. His rebounding total is the fourth-most in a single season in UK history and the best for any Wildcat since 1955.
There’s certainly been more than one defining moment for Tshiebwe as he leads the Wildcats in scoring (16.9), rebounding (15.3), steals (1.8), blocks (1.5) and field-goal percentage (59.7%).
Included in his five 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, Sharp, who stands at 7-foot-5 – his total tied for the sixth-most rebounds in UK history and the most in more than 46 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 53 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.
Against Mississippi State, Tshiebwe logged 21 points and 22 rebounds to become the first UK player to have a 20-20 game since Phillips achieved the feat twice in 1976.
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 37.6% of all of UK’s rebounds this season. Taking away team rebounds, that percentage jumps to 41.0%.
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 nearly 60% from the floor and has scored 20 or more points a team-high 10 times, including a career-high 30 points at Vanderbilt and at Arkansas. 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 then totaled 30 points and 18 rebounds on the road at No. 18 Arkansas. He was the first UK player to have at least 30 points and at least 18 rebounds on the road since Dan Issel in 1970.