Shaheen Holloway isn’t sure how to handle Oscar Tshiebwe


Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) boxes out Mississippi Rebels forward Luis Rodriguez (15) during the UK vs. Ole Miss mens basketball game on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 83-72. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Hunter Shelton

INDIANAPOLIS—Saint Peter’s head coach Shaheen Holloway knows his team’s plate is full on Thursday night against Kentucky. 

You’ve heard it all before. The small school gets its chance to make history against Goliath on the biggest stage, and the players and coaches truly think they can do it. 

Heads are held high, minds are focused and chips are certainly on shoulders. Why not them, anyways? It is March, after all. 

Coaches elude to their ‘master plans’ that they’ve crafted over the few-day hiatus, like they were a witch stirring a pot of some mysterious liquid. 

In Holloway’s case, you’d expect that plan to revolve around trying to limit consensus First Team All-American Oscar Tshiebwe, the larger than life figure that has taken over Kentucky basketball and the hearts of Big Blue Nation, averaging 15 points and 17 rebounds per game. 

Sure, it’s not going to be easy, but at least Holloway has something in mind, right? 

Well, no. 

“We’re just going to play Saint Peter’s University basketball. I don’t have a blueprint right now to guard him.”

That’s one way to look at it. 

As daunting as Tshiebwe is underneath the basket, it feels hard to blame Holloway for that answer. 

Saint Peter’s main trio of forwards that will attempt to do battle with the big man down low all check in at 6-foot-7, averaging around 200 pounds. 

That’s a 2-inch, 50-pound advantage for Tshiebwe in the paint. To put it lightly, it’s going to take more than one, maybe two Peacocks to contain him. 

“He’s a grown man playing against a bunch of kids. He’s a great player,” Holloway said. “I think with him playing for West Virginia and got a chance to play for coach Huggins and now playing for coach [Calipari], he’s just got a different mindset. is offense improved under Cal, but he gets after it on both ends of the court.”

Yes, there’s likely no stopping Tshiebwe on Thursday night, but Holloway feels like he has his own heavy hitter down low in KC Ndefo. 

Averaging 10.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, the senior forward has notched double-digit points on 15 occasions this season. His skillset is headlined by his shot-blocking ability, as he shoo’s away 2.73 shots per game, the 13th best average in the country.

“I just try to use my God-given ability, timing, things that God gave me. Just trying to compete and go out there and do whatever I can for my team,” Ndefo said. “I always feel like I’ve been a good shot blocker, so translating what I’ve always had and what God gave me is what I try to bring to the table.”

Holloway see’s similarities between his main forward and Tshiebwe, but even he won’t put Ndefo on the same pedestal. 

“Not as strong, but they play the same way. Like I said, on a smaller scale,” Holloway said. “Oscar, he’s a grown man, but I think they’re both similar. They both play really, really hard. They’re both great defenders.” 

Ndefo is facing the toughest matchup of his career, in what could be the final time he suits up in a Saint Peter’s uniform. With every arrow pointing in favor of the Wildcats, he isn’t budging.

“We all have the same mindset, and every team wakes up in the morning and puts their sneakers on and does the exact same routine. The chip on our shoulder, we all have it, and we are all here to do our job,” he said. 

All eyes will be in the paint as each team’s top dog go toe-to-toe, with a ticket to the second round on the line. Holloway may not have a plan, but he knows that won’t impact the heart and hustle his players are going to give. 

“A lot of guys on my team think they are supposed to be playing at Kentucky, so now they get a chance to play against them. That’s who we are, a team that plays hard and has something to prove.”