By LARRY VAUGHT
LAS VEGAS — Before Kentucky played Ohio State, coach John Calipari talked about he still had to “figure out” what he needed Nate Sestina to do now that he was close to being full recovered from the broken wrist he suffered in November.
Calipari said 3-point shooting was something he knew Sestina could add but that he could also be good in the post.
On Saturday, Sestina was better than good from 3-point range. He went 5-for-8 from 3-point range and 6-for-11 overall to lead UK with 17 points in the 71-65 loss to Ohio State. He had four rebounds, including three offensive boards, and one steal in 32 minutes — more than Calipari anticipated him playing but needed because Nick Richards got in early foul trouble, played just 12 minutes and had only two points and no rebounds.
“He made an impact coming off the bench, scoring 17 points,” Ohio State center Kaleb Wesson, who had 10 points and eight rebounds, said. “When you have a guy like that on your team, that’s good for your team, having a boost like that off the bench.”
“He’s a great player,” Ohio State’s Kyle Young said. “We’ve played him previously (when Sestina was at Bucknell last year), so we knew what his game was about. We knew he’s a player who made big shots.”
Sestina didn’t score Wednesday in limited play against Utah in his first game back after breaking the wrist in practice. He admitted Saturday he was a “little hesitant” that first game.
“Didn’t want to put my hand out there, put it in passing lanes, go up with two hands to rebound. I talked to the coaching staff and they were just like, ‘Listen, you need to just forget about it, forget about the injury,’” Sestina said.
That’s what the senior tried to do Saturday and did. He was not slow to dive on the floor for loose balls or sacrifice his body battling to get rebounds.
“It was just a toughness thing. We knew they were going to be physical, the Big-10’s known for that,” Sestina said. “I played Ohio State last year. They were physical, so I kind of knew that coming in and I was just trying to do the same thing for them.”
Calipari had put in a plan to use Sestina like what he did with 6-9 Derek Willis his last two years at UK where he stretched defenses with his 3-point shooting,
“We put in some stuff and what they did after he banged a couple, they just said okay we’re going to switch. Well, there’s two things you do,” Calipari said. “You run him into the post with the point guard, and you bring that other big out. Or you tell your point, it’s called a boomerang, he throws it, they get it right back to him and he goes downhill right at that big. You do one of the two. We’ll work on that kind of stuff, we haven’t had it.”
Sestina had his five 3-pointers in the game’s first 26 minutes before Ohio State coach Chris Holtman switched defensive strategy after spending halftime figuring out a way to stop Sestina’s 3-pointers.
“That guy can coach, too,” Calipari said.
Kentucky sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans said Sestina’s presence was a “big deal” for the team.
“He knocked down some big 3’s that we needed and then got other guys hitting shots, which he’s a vocal leader at all times, on and off the court and that’s what we need,” Hagans said.