By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky plays its first game tonight without Nick Sestina since he fractured his wrist in practice earlier this week when the Cats take on Alabama-Birmingham in Rupp Arena.
Sophomore guard Ashton Hagans says the injury gives Kahlil Whitney, Keion Brooks and Johnny Juzang can become bigger players for UK with Sestina out.
“It’s just time for us to get better and become that team that we’re looking forward to becoming at the end of the season,” Whitney said.
Still, doing that without Sestina won’t be nearly as easy for Kentucky.
“His physicality, his mindset. He’s talking loud all 40 minutes, the whole practice,” Hagans said. “That’s when Nick (Richards) steps in and talks more with us, EJ (Montgomery) talk more to us. It’s just, we’re at a perfect spot right now. Luckily it’s at the beginning of the season and we’ll have him (Sestina) back real soon.”
Whitney dislocated his finger during a recent game, popped it back into place and continued to play. He says “it’s getting better” and he will be ready to do more with Sestina out just like others will.
“Nate was a big part of rebounding and toughness in our team. So guys have to step up. It’s got to be me, Keion, Johnny playing a lot of minutes coming off the bench. We’ve just got to come in and be tough,” Whitney sad.
Sestina’s injury could result in Whitney playing more inside despite his lack of size.
“It’s a big opportunity for everyone. We’ve just got to come in and be prepared for whoever that is,” Whtiney said.
He knows he’ll have to use his athleticism against bigger players who should also be slower than him.
“So that’s a mismatch, so I’ve got to take advantage of that,” Whitney said.
The freshman said UK understands UAB, a solid underdog, could still give UK trouble, a lesson the Cats learned in the loss to Evansville.
“We have to come out and play no matter who it is. Don’t lower your level of play down to the competition,” Whitney said.