The Kentucky Wildcats dropped their second game in a row, this time losing 71-65 to the Ohio State Buckeyes. The game was close throughout, but Kentucky was unable to get over the hump and take the lead late in the game.
The Wildcats were led in points by Nate Sestina with 17, and Tyrese Maxey led the team in rebounds with six. The Buckeyes dominated the paint, and Kentucky was unable to score efficiently enough to keep up down the stretch.
The Wildcats are in real danger of losing three in a row with a strong Louisville team coming to Rupp Arena on Saturday. Hopefully, this week is more of a wake-up call for Kentucky and less of a sign of things to come. Here are four things you need to know about the game.
Sestina has to hit shots
I know many vans expected Nate Sestina to be more of a Reid Travis type. But not only is it obvious that his strengths lend themselves to more of a pick and pop role, but is also becoming clear that his outside shooting will be vital to Kentucky’s long-term success.
Sestina played the big man role well tonight, getting tough rebounds and fighting in the paint. But hitting three-pointers kept the Wildcats in the game when they were having trouble getting buckets.
Hagans has to be THE guy
Ashton Hagans looked like an All-American during the first half tonight. He had only one turnover in 19 minutes, he led the team in points, and he was a menace defensively. While he did not look as dominant in the second half, his performance early in the game was enough to show that he is the best player on the team. Hagans may not be the highest draft pick in June, but he is Kentucky’s best college basketball player right now.
Better shot selection
For most of the game (and the season?), it looked like Kentucky was settling for bad shots. Ohio State got open buckets in the paint all night long, in part due to the heavy whistles of the officials. And the Wildcats were trying to trade those easy buckets for long jumpers and contested lay-ups at the rim.
Kentucky struggled to get good looks against the Buckeyes against both the zone and man-to-man defense. There was rarely a rhythm. Most of Kentucky’s points came on transition baskets and runners when guys took it on their own. There were very few shots taken from executing a well-designed play.
Freshmen need to step up
For perhaps the first time in the John Calipari era at Kentucky, the slate of 5-star freshmen are contributing very little to the success(?) of this team. Tyrese Maxey has been good-to-great for most of the year, but no other freshman has contributed consistently.
Kahlil Whitney looks lost most of the time, Keion Brooks has not been able to bring it every night, and Johnny Juzang often seems scared to death. The Wildcats are obviously going to have to rely on the veterans to have a successful season, but without contributions from the new guys they ceiling gets much lower.