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Young Tshiebwe Learning From Battles With Veteran Azubuike

Cody Nespor

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. –  In all of the Big 12 there are few players who can match the size, strength and athleticism of West Virginia’s Oscar Tshiebwe.

Tshiebwe (6-foot-9, 258 lbs.) has been a force for the Mountaineers in his freshman season, leading the team in scoring (11.6 ppg), rebounding (9.1 rpg) and blocks (29).

One area where Tshiebwe’s inexperience has shown through this season, however, has been dealing with fouls. Tshiebwe averages 2.75 fouls per game and while he has yet to foul out of a contest, he has collected four fouls seven times this season. In three of WVU’s four most recent games, Tshiebwe has finished with four fouls.

Wednesday night against Kansas Tshiebwe scored 12 points and had five rebounds in the first half, but was limited to just two points and four rebounds in the second half.

“He got in foul trouble,” WVU coach Bob Huggins explained.

One of the players in the Big 12 that can match Tshiebwe pound-for-pound physically is Kansas senior Udoka Azubuike. Azubuike (7-foot, 255 lbs.) leads the conference in rebounding (9.6) and is the Jayhawks’ second-leading scorer at 13 points per game.

Tshiebwe and Azubuike battled for the second time this season Wednesday night at the Coliseum where the Jayhawks came back from a halftime deficit to defeat the Mountaineers for the second time this season.

In both meetings, Tshiebwe found success in the first half but Azubuike got the better of him after halftime. Tshiebwe scored a combined 27 points and had 15 rebounds in the first half of both games. In the second halves, he scored only a combined four points and had 11 rebounds.

Tshiebwe said playing against Azubuike has taught him he needs to play with a certain toughness.

“What I learn about him is, you’ve got to know how to play defense against somebody like that and you’ve got to know how to stop them,” Tshiebwe said.

KU coach Bill Self said Tshiebwe was the best big man on the floor for much of the game, but that Azubuike took over at the end.

“Oscar was the best big guy, but let’s call it like it is, (Azubuike) didn’t play the first half and when he was in there he wasn’t effective at all,” Self said. “(Tshiebwe) was by far the best big. In the second half, I’m not saying (Azubuike) was the best for the half, but he was the best down the stretch.”

Huggins knew the kind of trouble Azubuike could give West Virginis.

“He gives them a defensive force in there that makes it tough to score driving to the basket. Offensively, he’s a brute.”

In response, the Mountaineers had a plan to force Azubuike into foul trouble

“Our plan was, ‘we’ve got to do the best, we’ve got to get him in foul trouble’,” Tshiebwe explained. “We did in the first half, but in the second half we slowed down a little bit and we turned the ball over a lot, that’s the one thing he likes to do.”

As Tshiebwe said, the Mountaineers got Azubuike into foul trouble, with him picking up a second foul with eight and a half minutes left in the first half. Azubuike has played in 80 career games, compared to Tshiebwe’s 24, and with that experience, he was able to avoid picking up any other fouls in the first half and finished the game with only three.

Unless the teams meet in the Big 12 or NCAA tournaments, Wednesday night may have been the final time Tshiebwe and Azubuike battle one another in college.

From here the Jayhawks will return home to host Oklahoma Saturday morning and West Virginia will travel to Texas to take on No. 1 Baylor Saturday at 4 p.m. EST.

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Cody is currently a second-year graduate student at West Virginia University studying journalism. His graduate research focuses on the effects newspaper closures have on local communities. He graduated from Slippery Rock University in 2018 with a degree in digital media production. He was born and raised in Mercer, Pennsylvania.

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