Oscar Tshiebwe sets a new record in Kentucky victory. ‘He’s a handsome guy to the ball.’

Fitting that the final recorded play of Kentucky’s 61-53 victory over Providence in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night was a rebound by Oscar Tshiebwe.

The ball seemed to find its way into his hands all night.

“He’s got an it factor to chase the ball. It’s unbelievable,” Friars Coach Ed Cooley said afterward. “His length. His second jump. The ball’s attracted to him. He must be a real good-looking guy to the ball, because they love that dude. He’s a handsome guy to the ball. He’s just really good.”

Tshiebwe grabbed 25 rebounds Friday night.

That set a new Kentucky record for most boards in an NCAA Tournament game. The previous mark had lasted 67 years, held by Jerry Bird, who pulled down 24 rebounds against Iowa in 1956. Bill Spivey had 21 rebounds in the national title game in 1951. Bam Adebayo grabbed 18 against Northern Kentucky in 2017.

Their names will all be below Tshiebwe’s on the all-time list now.

The Kentucky star’s latest feat fell just one rebound shy of the modern NCAA Tournament record, set by Michigan’s Phil Hubbard, who grabbed 26 rebounds in a game in 1977. (Strangely enough, that game was played in Rupp Arena.)

Back in the UK locker room after Friday’s game, Tshiebwe’s final tally wasn’t met with incredulity.

“It’s Oscar,” freshman Chris Livingston said. “It’s what you come to expect when you play with him for so long.”

“That’s the stuff he does. It doesn’t really surprise me,” junior Lance Ware said. “That’s stuff that he’s done all year. He did it all year last year.”

Senior guard CJ Fredrick heard the number and muttered, “That’s crazy,” before a reporter could even finish the question. But then he thought about it for a moment and simply shrugged.

“Honestly, it’s just another day at the office,” Fredrick said. “We’re so accustomed to this … it’s bad that it’s not anything crazy to us. It’s remarkable. But to us, it’s just Oscar. You know what I mean? Which is crazy.”

It was a momentous occasion for March Madness, but — Fredrick is correct — it’s not exactly anything new. Tshiebwe grabbed 28 rebounds against Western Kentucky last season. He had 24 boards (and 37 points!) in a win over Georgia earlier this season.

“We’ve all become numb to it,” Ware said. “We’ve been witnessing greatness in front of our eyes for the last two years. Now, he gets 19 rebounds and people say, ‘Oh, he didn’t have a good game.’ It’s just kind of funny. You just laugh at that person, because obviously they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) drives to the basket against Providence forward Bryce Hopkins (23) during an NCAA Tournament first-round game at Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C., on Friday.
Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) drives to the basket against Providence forward Bryce Hopkins (23) during an NCAA Tournament first-round game at Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C., on Friday.

Tshiebwe hit his record number Friday night despite sitting for nearly five minutes midway through the second half due to foul trouble. Once the final outcome was determined, John Calipari took his star player out of the game with the Cats up nine points and 27 seconds on the clock, presumably so Tshiebwe could bask in the glow of a Greensboro Coliseum crowd that was predominantly dressed in blue and white.

He got his loud ovation. And then Calipari put him back in with 19 seconds left.

The final shot of the game belonged to Providence’s Jared Bynum, who missed a three-pointer with just seconds remaining. And the ball ended up in Tshiebwe’s hands for rebound No. 25.

Tshiebwe struggled offensively and finished with just eight points, the first time in nine games he’d failed to reach double figures. He knew those stats well after the game.

“I could not make a shot. I went 4-for-10. Trash,” he said. “But I’m glad we won.”

Kentucky earned its NCAA Tournament win. And Jacob Toppin enjoyed his shining moment.

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Box score from Kentucky basketball’s 61-53 win over Providence in the NCAA Tournament