Kentucky topped North Florida 96-56 today at the Rupp Arena and for his share of the win Oscar Tshiebwe had to take home a new piece of hardware. Oscar won the Most Impactful Player (MIP) belt., a new award Kentucky gives after every win this season. Oscar had 16 points (8-11 FG), 15 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks in just 22 minutes. He was just a rebound away from a double-double at halftime and led the team in plus/minus efficiency at +40.
“We’re going to do that now,” Oscar said, gesturing to the belt during his radio appearance after the game with Goose Givens. “The most influential player tonight was me. So give me the belt.”
“We have a belt that we give out based on wins,” John Calipari said in his post-game press conference. “The most influential players. Who influenced the game? The staff gets it and it’s a big shiny belt. Maybe they’ll show you. He got it today. He is the most influential. Not because of points and rebounds, but because of what you said. He had five assists, three steals and two blocks. This affects the game. He will have the belt until the next win. No belts if lost.”
Oscar’s five assists were a career high. As Drew Franklin joked, tonight’s MIP award also stands for Most Improved Passer.
“I have to be a good passer if I want my team to win,” Oscar told reporters. “Today I was the one [to win the belt] because I got five assists, three steals and two blocks.”
“He’s gotten better,” Calipari said of Oscar’s death. “If you remember, a year ago he wasn’t a really good passer, especially at the beginning of the year. But to have five assists and a turnover and three steals, that’s a big game.”
Given the one-sided result, it’s hard to get much out of this game; However, Oscar said an easy win would help this group solidify.
“We just have to win. We have to win. No matter what [stats] I have. We just have to win. I’m trying to help my youngest get everyone together so we can learn how to win. It’s better to lose now than in March. So right now we’re just picking things up, so we’re good.
Ball movement, rebound an improvement over the Gonzaga game
Everyone’s talking about how bad Kentucky’s offenses looked against Michigan State and Gonzaga. Against a much inferior opponent, the Cats found their groove, shooting 47.9% from the floor, 53.7% in the first half. Kentucky had 23 assists with just 7 turnovers and nine threes. Oscar said the ball motion was much better than it was in Spokane Sunday night.
“It’s nice because when we move the ball a lot we make it so easy to get a layup instead of holding the ball. So tonight was good. We moved the ball a lot. They couldn’t prevent that. That’s why we have to move the ball if we want to win. Attack the edge and shoot. Miss some, I’ll get some. I tell them, ‘Make sure whatever you’re shooting, you’re going to miss a few, so I’ll grab the rebounds.'”
It wasn’t just Oscar snagging rebounds. Kentucky won the Battle of the Boards 50-35 Jacob Toppin and Ugonna Onyenso grab ten rebounds each. Adou Thiero even fought Oscar for a board, which made the big man laugh.
“I looked at them, they challenged me! So they came out tonight and said, ‘Oscar, we’re going after your rebounds.’ I said, ‘Look, even if you approach me, I’ll make sure I get my 15.’ I have my 15th [rebounds] and I’m proud because if everyone can rebound, everyone goes to the ball, it becomes easy for us, because – for example, last game we played against Gonzaga, they passed us, so now if everyone comes for a rebound, if it’s there, we miss some, we’ll grab them again. Don’t give us another chance.”
As fans, you might not feel like you can get much out of 40-point routines. For Kentucky, it’s a chance to experiment. For Oscar, it’s a chance to improve his condition after a month’s absence from training due to the minor knee surgery he underwent in October. Tonight was his fourth game back. He admitted to Givens that he was exhausted during Sunday’s Gonzaga game.
“Absolutely right. So I ran, ran, ran. At one point I was really tired because I didn’t really have time to do conditioning. But I’m coming back. In a game like this, that’s conditioning for me.”
This was Oscar’s first post-game radio appearance of the season and, as might be expected, audiences were very excited to hear from him. The love was mutual.
“I feel good,” Oscar said. “I’m ready to turn things around. The BBN, we gotta make them happy, you know? It is so beautiful. It’s so nice to be back and standing in front of my people.”
As for the belt, the staff vote on who gets it after each win; However, Oscar is not giving up without a fight.
“Next time, like, next time Lance gets it, I have to give it to Lance. So I guess I won’t let him take anything from me. So I will be the most influential player. I’ll try to be the most influential player all the time.”