It doesn't sound like Ohio State is going to push Keita Bates-Diop as the Buckeyes prepare to face No. 2 UCLA on Saturday. After missing five games with a high ankle sprain suffered during the third game of the year, a 72-67 home win against Providence on Nov. 17, the junior forward has come off the bench in each of Ohio State's last two games while playing himself back into shape.

It doesn't sound like Ohio State is going to push Keita Bates-Diop as the Buckeyes prepare to face No. 2 UCLA on Saturday. After missing five games with a high ankle sprain suffered during the third game of the year, a 72-67 home win against Providence on Nov. 17, the junior forward has come off the bench in each of Ohio State's last two games while playing himself back into shape.

He's not quite there yet, though.

"Watching him move again (Tuesday), he's not," coach Thad Matta said Wednesday afternoon. "You saw late in the game (Saturday) he'd gone eight straight minutes and he wasn't himself. Just, he's not in shape. In essence, he's missed about four months. We've got to continue to build him and get him back."

It was during the summer that Bates-Diop suffered a stress fracture in his left shin that had him on a reduced practice workload with a goal toward full health early in the season. Then his right leg was pinned underneath his body as he was knocked to the ground during the second half of the Providence game, sending him back to the drawing board and placing Kam Williams in the starting lineup in his place.

Included among the games Bates-Diop missed was a two-point road loss at No. 6 Virginia as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Nov. 30.

"It was hard because I know they're out there battling and I wish I was out there battling with them," he said Wednesday in his first public comments since the injury. "It was frustrating, because I was really ready to be back after the shin thing. I'm back now, so that's all that matters."

After Ohio State beat Connecticut last Saturday, it has had the week off for final exams before playing the Bruins this Saturday in Las Vegas as part of the CBS Sports Classic. The time off has helped him try to get to 100 percent, Bates-Diop said.

Junior forward Jae'Sean Tate, who missed the last seven games of last season after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, said he urged Bates-Diop not to rush back.

"Going through an injury people are eager to get back out there but you've just got to stay the course and do your therapy before you get out there," Tate said. "You don't want to get out there too early and risk hurting it even more. I just tried to tell him to be patient and it's good to have him back."

Now in five games this season including three starts, Bates-Diop is averaging 9.2 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. He played 20 minutes in a Dec. 6 overtime loss to Florida Atlantic and hit his first two shots, then played 16 minutes against the Huskies and had two key blocks late in the game to help seal the win.

Matta said he won't approach the UCLA game trying to get Bates-Diop a certain number of minutes, saying he makes those decisions by feel as a game progresses rather than in advance with an eye on having him ready for the start of Big Ten play Jan. 1.

Any minutes are better than the initial fears Bates-Diop said he experienced immediately after suffering this latest injury.

Asked if he was scared at first, Bates-Diop said, "Yeah, because the way I fell, it hurt my leg. The way I fell awkwardly, I was like, 'Oh no, this is it.' But thankfully it was just whatever it was, thankfully."

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy