Oscar Tshiebwe knows Cats have to stay focused and trust in each other

Oscar Tshiebwe still has “complete faith” in his teammates despite the SEC Tournament loss to Vanderbilt. (Vicky Graff Photo)

Before Kentucky lost to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament, All-American center Oscar Tshiebwe insisted he was going to make sure his teammates understood there were no “gimme” games in postseason play after UK lost to 15 seed Saint Peter’s in last year’s NCAA Tournament.

“I did not like one-seed, two-seed, three-seed… you get to compete against some teams that come in with a different mindset: Kentucky is not beating us,” Tshiebwe said. “For us, we’re saying we’re playing St. Peter’s, we’re playing this team, it’s gonna be easy for us. No. Remember, they’re in March Madness for a very good reason.

“If any team makes it to March Madness, that means they’ve got good players, they can play. I like where we are, whatever seed they put us, so we know that every team we’re about to go against, it’s gonna be a fight.”

Tshiebwe insisted he would have a different mindset in his second NCAA Tournament than he did last year. Kentucky opens NCAA play Friday against Providence.

“Go and play. I don’t care how much I score, how much I do. I’m just gonna do my best to help my team to win,” Tshiebwe said. “I am gonna do everything I can just to help. If somebody’s on fire, let’s keep giving him the ball. We don’t care if he got 100 (points), we got to win the game.”

Did losing to Vanderbilt for a second time in nine days at the SEC tourney impact how Tshiebwe will approach NCAA play or what he will tell teammates?

“We just got to stay focused. We got to trust in each other, trust our team. We got a pretty good team. We struggled a little bit today with free throws, missed a couple,” Tshiebwe said after the SEC tourney loss. “I have faith in my teammates in everything. This will give us more chances to be well and be prepared.”

Tshiebwe understands UK’s inconsistency has many people questioning how UK will do in NCAA play. He sees it as a blessing.

“An up and down year teaches us how to win and how to come together. I really thank God for the up and down year,” Tshiebwe said. “We would never learn without that. Last year we did not have a lot of ups and downs and then we go out (of the NCAA) so quickly and we never got to think about it. This up and down year will help us come together.”

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