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Bob Lutz: Wesley fights the good fight for Newman

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, at 12:05 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, at 5:19 p.m.

Bobby Wesley, being the competitor he is, dreams big. The Newman junior point guard didn't lack confidence in himself or his teammates as they took the floor at Koch Arena on Monday night to face Wichita State — the NCAA Division II Jets against the defending NIT champion Shockers, whose vision is focused on a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

But Newman has vision, too. And every time Wesley looked toward the upcoming game with the Shockers, he said, he saw the makings of a big upset.

"I just kept saying that we were going to win this game,'' Wesley said. "I kept preaching to our team that we were going to win, we're going to win.''

Well, Newman didn't win. Newman lost 102-53 to a superior team loaded with size, quickness and skill. The Shockers are 9-2 and have the look of a Missouri Valley Conference contender and a team that will kick itself if its name isn't read on NCAA Selection Sunday.

Monday's game was relatively close for a while — Wesley's three-pointer with 12:22 remaining in the first half brought the Jets to within 16-13. It was just a four-point game three minutes later. But then the game started to slip away for Newman and bad got worse.

Wesley, the heart and soul of the Newman team, a player Jets coach Mark Potter says is tied for first among the toughest competitors he has ever coached, couldn't compete enough to make a difference.

"You always dream when you go into a game like this against such a great team,'' Wesley said after it was over. "But they were by far the best team I've played against. Ever. They just pushed us and challenged us. We did pretty good at the start but they kept after us.''

Newman eventually faded. And when the game started getting away, the Jets had no way to retrieve it. Wesley, whose strength is penetrating into the lane, found every avenue blocked by a bigger, stronger Wichita State player.

"They took me out of my game completely,'' said Wesley, who is from Garden City and played a season at Garden City Community College before transferring to Newman. "Sad to say, but that's what happened.''

Wesley's confidence was high after scoring 55 points in Newman's previous four games, including a career-high 22 points in a 77-60 win over Emporia State on Dec. 7.

He was pretty good against Wichita State in an exhibition game last season, scoring 11 points during an 80-62 Newman loss.

Monday night, though, Wesley made only 1 of 6 shots and scored seven points to go with four turnovers in 26 minutes, every one of them difficult to get through.

It was not the game he was hoping for, for either himself or his team.

"He was still a bulldog out there for us,'' Potter said. "He ran our show for us. The problem was that on offense, when we tried to get to the gap, the Wichita State players got there before us. They're so long and athletic. We weren't able to turn corners like maybe we had. But Bobby is still a warrior. He just battles and goes to work.''

Earlier Monday, when I talked to Potter about Wesley, he was effusive with praise. The Jets (8-3) wouldn't be nearly as good without Wesley, Potter said.

"People ask me all the time about how I sleep during a basketball season,'' Potter said. "Well, I don't sleep well at all. But Bobby allows me to maybe sleep an extra 20 minutes a night. He never, ever takes a possession off and he's the same way in practice. I'm hoping he has a really good game against Wichita State because he deserves it.''

But in front of an announced crowd of 10,187, Wesley couldn't get it going. Nor could any of the Jets, really. They shot 28.1 percent, turned the basketball over 20 times and were outrebounded by 11.

"When they started scoring so easily and we were having such a hard time scoring I knew we might be in trouble,'' Wesley said. "With about 15 or 14 minutes left in the second half is when I probably realized we weren't going to win.''

Newman will do well at the Division II level, but the Jets were hopeful of putting up a real fight against Wichita State. Wesley felt it. He believed it. He absolutely expected it.

So he was disappointed after it was over, but also resigned.

"They do exactly what our scouting report said they would do,'' Wesley said of the Shockers. "That's just a great team. To sum it up, like I said, that's the best team I've ever played against. Ever.''

But strange as it sounds, Wesley said he would do it again. And believe just as strongly as he believed before Monday's game that the Jets would find a way to win.

You can beat Wesley by 49 points, but you can't beat the hope out of him.

"If we could play Wichita State tomorrow, then I'd want to play them tomorrow,'' he said. "I'd play them every day if I could. Every day.''

Check sports columnist Bob Lutz's blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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