February 1, 2012

Bob Lutz: Stutz terrorizing the Valley

It’s one of the classic movie scenes ever filmed.

It’s one of the classic movie scenes ever filmed.

King Kong, atop the Empire State building, being fired upon by small aircraft as he swats them away while holding a frightened Fay Wray in the palm of his hand.

It offers a legitimate view of the way 7-foot senior Garrett Stutz is playing basketball for Wichita State.

He’s King Kong. The Missouri Valley Conference is the Empire State Building. And as Missouri State’s undersized big men — at least when compared to Stutz — took their shots at him Wednesday night the way those pilots did in the movie, he shrugged them off as nothing more than a nuisance.

Who is Fay Wray in this scenario?

The next guy who has to go head to a much taller head with Stutz.

Stutz had 25 points and 11 rebounds as the Shockers finally beat Missouri State 74-67 after some moments of doubt. It was Stutz’s seventh double-double in a breakthrough season and his third consecutive game of topping 20 points.

Since he missed a home game with Southern Illinois because of a back injury on Jan. 21, Stutz has had 23, 27 and 25 in consecutive games and also chipped in 24 rebounds.

“I want to commend Garrett because he’s obviously not 100-percent healthy,’’ WSU coach Gregg Marshall said.

Not 100-percent healthy? Come again?

“It’s hard to tell, isn’t it?’’ Marshall said.

As Stutz capsized Missouri State, I couldn’t help but think back to his first three seasons. He flashed some uncommon ability, but it was never around for long.

And now he’s terrorizing the Valley. Women and children had to look away Wednesday night as Stutz, who took a pass just beyond the three-point line early in the second half, put the ball on the floor and headed toward the basket.

Missouri State defenders, if you want to be generous and use that term, did everything but park Stutz’s car as he got all the way to the rim and threw down a dunk.

When you see power forwards do something like that, you look for a replay. When you see a 7-footer like Stutz do it, a player who spent the first three years of his college career stuck in mud, you praise the basketball gods for giving you such a moment.

“I was intending to shoot it,’’ Stutz said. “But they kept coming out to guard me closer and closer. I thought to myself, ‘I think I can get by him on this one.’ ’’

Expecting Stutz to do almost anything but get to the basket, Missouri State defenders jumped to cover other Shockers. Stutz’s path was left open.

“Then the secondary defender jumped out of the way and I just finished it,’’ Stutz said.

Those same Missouri State players, especially senior and Shocker-killer Kyle Weems, were still shaken by Stutz’s king-sized game. Everywhere Stutz goes in the Valley, there’s the same reaction. Something like: “When did this guy become this good?”

As good as Stutz was, though, the Shockers don’t win Wednesday night without Ben Smith’s second-half eruption. Smith scored 15 of his 21 points after halftime and made five of nine three-pointers.

No other WSU player had more than 10 points. The Shockers haven’t had the most balanced scoring attack lately, but Marshall isn’t complaining too much with a couple of guys scoring more than 20.

“You would think that with all the guys we have — seniors and juniors who have done it in big games for several years — you’d think we’d have more than one other guy besides Garrett,’’ Marshall said. “But lately it’s just been a two-man show, Garrett and his sidekick. Batman and Robin. Tonight, Ben was Robin. The last game we lost at Drake, it was Joe (Ragland).’’

I don’t know, I don’t think Stutz fits as Batman. I don’t see him as a superhero. Or as a regular guy with super powers, like Superman.

As he towers over the rest of the Missouri Valley, refusing to be taken down, he continues to climb to the top.

Missouri State couldn’t counter with its big man, 6-foot-11, 260-pound Caleb Patterson, who missed the game with an ankle injury. It would have been fun to see the behemoth (Patterson) take on the beast (Stutz).

But I don’t think Patterson or anyone else in the MVC can topple Stutz. There was a time when the right opponent, someone quicker or more agile, could contain the big man.

Those days are over. He has grown as a player. He has broken from shackles and is terrorizing a conference, one he holds in the palm of his hand.

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