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KU basketball could face its biggest challenge of the season with Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe

Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe was determined to finish with the ball.

Surrounded by three Kansas players, the Kentucky big fought and emerged on the rebound.

Tshiebwe faked the pump, sent two KU players flying through the air and finally shot the ball from under the basket. The shot did not hit the rim, and Kansas forward KJ Adams appeared to have the rebound…

Until it didn’t.

Tshiebwe snatched the ball out of Adams’ hands and finally connected on the layup.

The 2022 Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year dropped a double-double (17 points and 14 rebounds) in the Wildcats’ 80-62 win over KU in the 2021-22 season at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas seeks redemption Saturday at Rupp Arena.

The Jayhawks No. 9 (16-4, 5-3 Big 12) and Kentucky (14-6, 5-3 SEC) will face off in a Big 12/SEC matchup at 7:00 p.m.

Kansas arrives in Lexington in desperation as they try to avoid their first four-game losing streak since the 1988-89 season. The undersized Jayhawks will battle Tshiebwe, who is averaging 16.6 points and 13.9 rebounds this season.

“They got a great player in Oscar,” KU forward Jalen Wilson said Thursday. “He gave us trouble last year. So (we’re) just trying to figure out what it’s going to take to slow it down as much as possible.

As for what Kansas learned playing Tshiebwe last season?

“We have to bring the physicality to him,” Wilson said. “It’s a beast in there. I think last year we weren’t so locked into what he was capable of, in regards to controlling a game on the pitch. He’s doing it all again this year.

“We’re just going to have to really put some guys on him and knock him out. Get someone else on the team to get a rebound. I think we will, it will limit a lot of points and second chance opportunities.

The Jayhawks have struggled on the glass all season, but it’s been a big deal in their last two games. In KU’s 75-69 loss to Baylor on Monday, the Bears outscored Kansas 17 to 8 on the offensive glass. Baylor had 16 second chance points to KU’s four.

In the previous game, the Jayhawks were beaten 36-30 against TCU and gave up offensive rebounds on more than a third of errors by the Horned Frogs (9-for-26).

After the Baylor match, Wilson spoke about his tendency to jump for the ball instead of boxing out.

Kansas head coach Bill Self believes it’s a team-wide problem.

“KJ was so good, (but he) is so small compared to some guys that his focus has been, ‘Don’t let my guy get much rebound,’ which is fine,” Self said. “That means Jalen, Gradey (Dick), Kevin (McCullar) have to get them all.”

That was the job of Adams, listed at 6-foot-7, and KU all season, with varying degrees of success.

To start the season, Kansas kept tabs on returning Indiana All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis (he averaged 19.7 points and 10.8 rebounds).

Jackson-Davis is averaging 30.3 points and 15 rebounds in his last three games. The Jayhawks sent up smart double teams, denied him the ball, and made him uncomfortable all game, holding him to 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting. He grabbed nine rebounds in IU’s 84-62 loss to Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse.

However, Tshiebwe poses a different challenge for KU. Self believes the UK forward is the best big man and rebounder in the country.

“We approach it differently than Trayce,” Self said. “Trayce caught the ball 12 feet out and wanted to play in front of (the basket). He’s a different guard than Oscar is.

Self explained: “It’s a situation where you want to slow it down, but you also don’t want to give it so much attention and let the other guys have some freedom that maybe allows them to have really big games as well. They are capable at all points.

Sure enough, if Kansas pays too much attention on the inside, Kentucky could make the three-man team pay. The Wildcats are shooting 36.9% from three as a team with four rotation players shooting over 35%: Antonio Reeves, Cason Wallace, Sahvir Wheeler and Chris Livingston.

“We have to do a good job and limit his good touches,” Self said. “We’re working on how to proceed right now and hopefully (we’ll have) a good game plan on how to do that by Saturday.”

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