Forget about those ghosts and goblins this Halloween weekend. The scariest thing Kentucky Wildcat fans witnessed on Friday night was junior big man Nick Richards sitting on the bench in a walking boot after an injury to his left foot in the opening exhibition game.
Despite the absence of the 6-foot-11 center, Kentucky closed out its preseason with an 83-51 win over Kentucky State at Rupp Arena.
Fortunately, Nate Sestina took care of a few tricks in the post and freshman Kahlil Whitney provided the treats as the duo combined for 22 points (11 each) to outscore Kentucky State 44-20 in the opening half. Whitney finished with 15 points, while Sestina had 13 points and eight rebounds.
Sestina, a graduate transfer, was the most physical player on the floor, boxing out, rebounding and showing off his crafty offensive moves, including a fade away in traffic in the lane and a step-back three pointer in transition. Whitney, who struggled without a single point or rebound against Georgetown, found his stroke early and looked much more confident as a spot up shooter.
With Richards on the bench, Kentucky is now down to eight scholarship players, as Dontaie Allen has still not been cleared to play after recovering from multiple injuries. UK baseball standout Ben Jordan, a 6-foot-9 post player, was recently added to the roster to add more depth to the practice squad, but he did not see action in this one.
The No. 2-ranked Wildcats now turn their full attention to the regular season opener on Tuesday night against No. 1-ranked Michigan State at Madison Square Garden. Game time is set for 9:30 pm ET for the State Farm Champions Classic on ESPN.
While Sestina and Whitney were obvious choices for Game MVP against the outmanned Thorobreds, it’s sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley who has now emerged as Kentucky’s most valuable offensive player through both exhibition games.
Quickley has shown significant improvement from a year ago and has played with a confidence and swagger that could force Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari into a three-guard lineup against Michigan State with Hagans, Maxey and Quickley on the court together with a combination of Sestina, EJ Montgomery, Whitney and Keion Brooks.
Quickly finished with 17 points and averaged 16.5 points in the two exhibition contests.