With yet another injury added to the list, the Cats are managing.
Kentucky men’s basketball (6-1) added a win in yet another game without a key piece of the pie.
The Cats defeated the University of Alabama at Birmingham Friday night 69-58, this time without starting 6-foot-11 forward Nate Sestina. The graduate transfer suffered a left wrist fracture in practice on Tuesday, had surgery on Wednesday and is expected back on the floor in 3-4 weeks.
Sophomore EJ Montgomery filled Sestina’s starting spot and totaled a career-high 16 points and eight rebounds alongside Kentucky’s other big man Nick Richards, who also finished with 16 points and added nine rebounds.
“I didn’t feel any pressure,” Montgomery said. “Nate was great for our team, but I just feel like I needed to step it up and contribute so we could get the win.”
With Montgomery standing at 6-foot-10 and Richards at 6-foot-11, UK’s length when they’re on the floor at the same time can pose a problem for other teams. UAB head coach Robert Ehsan agrees and also said they hadn’t seen much of the two playing at the same time.
“Coming into this game, we were one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, and we only got eight offensive rebounds,” Ehsan said. “When we did, I thought their length extremely bothered us.”
Montgomery was showing parts of his game he hadn’t showcased much yet this season—like mid-range jump shots and more perimeter shooting.
“I’ve been working on it and I’ll continue to work on it,” Montgomery said. “Wasn’t going down at first but I’m not going to stop shooting.”
You can’t talk about Montgomery and Richards’ performances without mentioning sophomore Ashton Hagans. The guard had a career-tying 12 assists and fed the two big men the ball in the post all night.
“He was a great point guard tonight,” Richards said. “I didn’t know how many assists he had tonight, somewhere around 11 or 12. He’s out there trying to make everybody better.”
Calipari says Hagans, who also added nine points against UAB, is as good as any point guard in the country.
“Because when you defend the way he defends and you're as tough as he is, he went 12 assists, two turnovers,” Calipari said. “He's shooting 47 percent from the floor and he missed all those threes early.”
The Cats are back in action next week on Saturday, Dec. 7 against Fairleigh Dickinson at 4 p.m.