By LARRY VAUGHT
In his Rupp Arena debut, Nate Sestina gave Kentucky basketball fans even more reason to like him.
Sestina posted his first double-double at Kentucky — he had 11 at Bucknell before transferring to UK this year — with 12 points and 11 rebounds Friday night at Rupp Arena in Kentucky’s romp over Eastern Kentucky.
“It was great. We have the best fans in the country,” Sestina said after the game. “Another opportunity to come out and get better in front of these guys and to play our game and show them what we are doing. It was great to get a win.”
He had played a significant role Tuesday in New York when UK beat No. 1 Michigan State. He knew Eastern Kentucky would relish the opportunity to play Kentucky, the expected No. 1 team in next week’s poll, because of his experiences at Bucknell when his team went into games against name teams as the underdog.
“I actually said it today when we were getting ready to come out for starting lineup. I was like, ‘Listen, I’ve been in those shoes, I’ve been in that spot, where you’re the underdog,'” Sestina said. “You’re a team that comes in and everybody thinks you’re going to get smacked.
“When I was at Bucknell, we played a lot of teams really close and I just told them like anything can happen. A game where we have defensive lapses and they make shots, they can go on runs, and they can really catch up. We just have to stay locked in.”
Kentucky stayed locked in, especially junior Nick Richards who had 21 points and 11 rebounds in one of his better games at UK.
“Oh my God, the dude is phenomenal. He was incredible tonight,” Sestina said. “He was grabbing rebounds, on the floor, he was talking, he was dunking everything, making free throws. He played phenomenally tonight.
“He just plays so hard. A lot of the stuff he does goes unnoticed I think and he’s a guy that communicates a lot and does a lot of the small things for us.”
So does Sestina. Just ask coach John Calipari.
“Nate makes our team different,” Calipari said. “He talks, he hustles, he scrambles, he’s got an unbelievable spirit out there.”