Monday, November 14, 2005

Western Humbles Bellarmine, 91-67

I was unable to attend the Tops opening exhibition game, so ladies and gentlemen, I give you...Mr. Sivart Worfner. (Smattering of unsure applause)

S-Dub will be chronicling a couple of Topper games early in the season as I travel to conferences at incredibly inopportune times. Thanks, SW!


While it was just an exhibition game, Hilltopper fans were a little concerned about the opener against the Bellarmine Knights of the Roundball. Bellarmine stayed within seven of Louisville in what was essentially a two point game until the end. They had stayed within three of Murray State, one of the favorites to win the OVC. Tack on that WKU would be without starting center Elgrace Wilborn, redshirt freshman forward Matt “MoMo/Dirk” Maresca, and true freshman manchild Daniel Emerson, and there was ample reason for doubt.

Starting lineup of JuCo transfer Joemal Campbell, senior Anthony Winchester, sophomore Courtney Lee, sophomore Ty Rogers and sophomore Boris Siakam, WKU jumped out to a 15-0 lead. Those former doubts, frankly, seemed silly at that point. But after Bellarmine scored their first basket (with 12:42 remaining in the first half) they got re-energized and the man to man pressure defense that held the Knights scoreless was matched with a 2/3 zone that cooled the Tops’ hot hands and allowed Bellarmine to tie the game.

WKU came back to take a 41-32 lead into the break then opened the second half on a 20-8 run into the first TV timeout. The game was history and the Knights of the Roundball were humbled to the tune of 91-67. Now that you know what happened, I’ll tell you how.

Darrin Horn’s commitment to defense is no joke. WKU swarmed the floor with impressive man to man full court pressure and even a trapping zone in the fullcourt. They created turnovers, they got steals, there were runouts, and there were dunks. It was exactly the kind of output Hilltopper fans have been anticipating with this team, if only against a good DII squad. The Tops gave up some transition threes, but it wasn’t bad for the maiden voyage.

Joemal Campbell is real fast. (No, that’s not how Cort would say it.) Joemal Campbell challenged the laws of physics and the arena was often filled with sonic booms when he accelerated. (That’s a little more Cort-esque.) He ran the offense well and he flat ran well. He was the kind of the guy that seemed so committed to defense it made him furious when someone got past him, the one time that someone actually did get past him that is.

Orlando Mendez-Valdez (henceforth, “Dez”) looked solid. His shot was a bit tentative, but he also ran the team well. While Dez is not nearly the defensive gem that Campbell is, he was solid and only got beat a few times. Mostly by Illinois State transfer Matt Miller who will give fits to the GLVC this year at DII.

The other PG was Courtney Lee. I SAID, the other point guard was Courtney Lee. But that honestly didn’t last too long. Lee had a typically strong night from the floor with double-digit scoring, driving baskets, pull up jumpers, and chipped in with seven rebounds.

The leading scorer was…Winchester. How anti-climactic is that? AW did his best “Robin of Locksley” impression as he drilled shot after shot, going 4-4 from outside and finishing with 23 points. Oh, did I mention he played PF most of the night and grabbed 7 rebounds. Does this even impress Hilltopper fans anymore? Anyone? Are we that spoiled? Yes, yes we are.

As predicted by Cort, Boris Siakam will be the X-factor and on Thursday night the X variable was equal to the sum of hard work + solid defense + good rebounding + steals at the top of the press + break away dunks. Siakam may be forgotten by some Hilltopper fans, but they were quickly reminded of what a good athlete he is and his boundless potential.

If Benson Callier was a playground legend in Florida, I’m glad I never played on that playground. Callier started out 0-3 (all from outside) before finding his touch and leading WKU with ten points at the break hitting from outside, working inside, and playing good defense. In the second half, his skin turned green, his eyes white and he ripped down two massive dunks that caused at least two Bellarmine players to require a change of dress.

Butch Jointer enjoyed a solid night stroking three pointers inspiring that age-old cliché, “There’s nothing wrong with that,” from yours truly. Jointer will fit in nicely and is going to get his share of minutes with hustle, good defense and nice looking jump shot. All very impressive contributions from a late signee.

Ty Rogers was Winchester, Jr. I’m usually one who hates to label a player like that, but Rogers just fits the mold. He’s willing to get in and mix it up, but has a feathery touch from outside that exudes confidence.

The jury remains out on Mike Walker. Not because of anything Walker did, but because he didn’t get time to do much of anything. Walker fought the law and the law won all night as he stayed in foul trouble.

All in all, the Tops dispatched Bellarmine by 27 points. If you’re scoring at home, that’s 20 points better than UofL. That’s 24 points better than Murray State. And NONE of that means anything except that WKU looked better in a game that doesn’t matter than those two teams did.

Still, the press is going to be a defensive weapon that would make Patton grin, we have more outside shooting than a night at the Source awards, we have more athletes than a BALCO stockholder meeting and we’ve got a coach who is moving this team forward quickly. It’s going to be a very fun season.

Thanks to Cort for letting me fill in for him. I’ll close with the immortal words of Jerry Reed.

“East bound and down, loaded up and truckin’. We gonna’ do what they say can’t be done.”

Thanks again for the report, SW. Stay tuned for more Worfner during the season.