Tag Archives: Sergio Kerusch

COMMENTARY: Kerusch’s injury has its advantages

It’s been awhile since junior forward Sergio Kerusch suited up in a Western uniform.

Long enough for Toppers fans to forget just how much he meant to the team. Also long enough for some initial roster non-factors to show their stuff.

Since Kerusch went down with a broken right foot a day before Western’s meeting with Louisville on Dec. 19, freshman guards Jamal Crook and Caden Dickerson have worked themselves into starting roles and major minutes.

Against Southern Illinois, Dickerson scored eight points in 33 minutes just days after pouring in a career-high 13 points against Middle Tennessee. Crook only played 11 minutes on Monday night, but the freshman has played more than 20 minutes in eight of the Toppers’ last 12 games.

Someone also had to step up under the basket without Kerusch available.

That role was solidly filled — eventually — by junior forward Cliff Dixon. The junior college transfer has reached double figures in four of Western’s last six games from the bench, filling part of the scoring void left by Kerusch.

So when Kerusch finally does return, expect coach Ken McDonald to shorten the bench.

But he won’t leave out Crook, Dickerson and Dixon, because those are the three that grew capable enough to play while battling over Kerusch’s minutes.

As those three found their legs, each in their first season at Western, the Toppers lost some games. Most losses were close, and with Louisville as an exception, all were decided by 10 points or less.

And it’s really hard to argue that Kerusch isn’t worth 10 points to the Toppers.

Kerusch will return to the lineup as Western’s second-leading rebounder and third-leading scorer, perhaps adding what the Toppers haven’t been getting while freshman guard Jameson Tipping and senior guard Anthony Sally logged extended minutes.

Perhaps providing the vocal presence and leadership Western has lacked on the court despite senior guard A.J. Slaughter’s best efforts. Slaughter just can’t do it all.

Perhaps what could make the difference between losing four in a row and winning four in a row — coincidentally the same amount of games it’s going to take the Toppers to win the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

Although Kerusch’s absence may have deflated Western’s regular-season record, his return — as McDonald put it — can only make the Toppers better.

The same as his time away made the Toppers deeper, turning Crook, Dickerson and Dixon into capable additions to the rotation.

-Jonathan Lintner

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McDonald rides confidence into UofL

Just got in from WKU’s press conference going into the Toppers’ game at Louisville on Saturday. Head coach Ken McDonald had a few interesting points, and players Steffphon Pettigrew and Sergio Kerusch provided insight as well.

The Toppers are seemingly hitting their stride going into this contest and have history on their side. After their 76-69 victory over then-no.24 ranked Vanderbilt on Friday night at the Sommet Center in Nashville and considering last season’s 68-54 win over then-No.3 Louisville (also in the Sommet Center), WKU has the motivation to play the Cardinals, who are on a two-game home losing skid right now going into a game at home against Oral Roberts tonight.

But that is what McDonald believes is just one of the factors in getting the team ready for peak performance:

“It starts with our defense and our rebounding,” he said. “Once again, it takes a lot of pressure off our offense. Every possession, when you get down eight to 10 points, double digits, you start to feel a pressure that you have to take over the game and you have to make shots, and you can lose confidence in a hurry on the offensive end and it snowballs. So I think we’ve done a good job with that, turning that around and understanding that each four minutes, if we take care of the defense and rebounding, we’re going to have a lot more confidence on the offensive end.”

A game like this could also be a trap game for the Toppers going down the road. WKU followed its win over Louisville last season with a 72-40 loss at Evansville two games later. It was the Toppers lowest point total all season and the worst game offensively by far on the year. But McDonald isn’t expecting a drop-off in this type of game.

“If you can’t get excited and be intense going into Louisville, with one of the great venues in the country with an unbelievable environment,” McDonald said. “First of all, we’ve got to go in with an ‘us against the world’ mentality, because we haven’t been in this environment yet. It’ll be louder than we’re used to. We’ve got a chance to do something special with our team and with all that said, continue to build toward our goals of being a good basketball team at the end of the year.”

On the court, these teams couldn’t be going in more different directions. WKU’s win over Vandy, coupled with UofL’s two-game losing streak, could spell a second-straight victory over the Cardinals for the Toppers. A great majority of this team’s nucleus is back from last season’s win — most importantly, senior forward Jeremy Evans and junior forward Steffphon Pettigrew, who were instrumental in shutting down Louisville’s marquee forwards, Samardo Samuels and Earl Clark, in last year’s game. Clark is gone, replaced primarily by sophomore Terrence Jennings, but Samuels still remains. It will be up to those two again to make sure he doesn’t get many touches.

Added motivation comes from the Kentucky kids like Pettigrew, senior guard A.J. Slaughter and freshman guard Jamal Crook, who played in the state but were recruited lightly or not at all by Louisville.

“Every time you play a Kentucky school, you go in there and you play as hard as you can and play the best game you have,” Pettigrew said.

Pettigrew also added that the team will be focusing on the Cardinals’ 2-3 zone that has become, along with the full court press, one of UofL head coach Rick Pitino’s staples as of late. The zone definitely has holes, especially on the perimeter, which can lead to a number of good looks from three-point range if the Cardinals don’t close out. And with the quick trigger on players like Slaughter, Kerusch and freshman guards Caden Dickerson and Jameson Tipping, if the looks fall, it could get interesting.

“I think last year was last year,” Kerusch said. “And I think that (Louisville) can draw more motivation than we can because we won. Their coach can be telling them, ‘We underestimated them last year. We’re not doing that this year.’ It’s a big game, winning against Vanderbilt. We’ve got a great confidence, and I think we found our chemistry.”

On the guard end of the spectrum, Kerusch and Slaughter will be the ones asked to control the tempo. The loss of Orlando Mendez-Valdez shouldn’t factor too much. Mendez-Valdez only scored five points in last year’s game, while Slaughter dropped in a game-high 25. Kerusch will likely be the man counted on in this game to back up Slaughter. Kerusch only scored five points on 1-for-10 shooting last time out against the Cardinals.

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Close win may benefit Tops more this season

After watching the Toppers’ 63-57 victory over Evansville, I came to the conclusion that the Western everyone knew last season is long gone. That being said, Ken McDonald should be happy with these close home wins (and the loss to Indiana State).

This team is not going to blow many teams out this season. It’s too young and too inexperienced, especially on the bench. Last season’s bench may have been short on talent, but it certainly wasn’t on experience. They were able to come in and provide minutes when they would hold onto the ball.

This team will have to make due with the great amount of young talent and potential it has, and the only way for young talent to grow is to be tested. For a team that essentially cruised at home last season, a loss or consistent close games at home is one of the best ways. It allows them to be in their comfort zone while being tested. It could turn out to be just exactly what makes this team tick into March.

Making players like freshmen Caden Dickerson and Jameson Tipping play minutes in the beginning and then letting them sit and watch how a team with a top-heavy roster wins games helps them learn, and on-the-go learning is how young players improve.

So any seed of doubt that Western can’t compete in an already-depeleted Sun Belt Conference because they play almost every game close is ill-advised. Playing in a one-bid conference where winning the conference regular season and tournament games are key, a few bumps in the non-conference schedule will set this team up for success when the game is tight late in February and March.

-David Harten

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McDonald: Toppers working to win a championship every day

Western basketball coach Ken McDonald said Monday he expects the Toppers to be the team to beat in the Sun Belt Conference this season, adding that the team takes a championship approach to each day of practice.

“I brought them in the first practice and said, ‘guys, who is going to be expected to win this conference? We are. Who should win this conference? We should. Who is it going to be up to? It’s going to be up to us,’” McDonald said.

Through two days of practice, junior forward Sergio Kerusch said the Toppers have performed up to expectations.

“Coach Mac always ends the day by asking us, ’Did we win a championship today?’” Kerush said. “So far, the first two days, we got a championship…we’re putting it all on the line every day to hopefully achieve that goal.”

According to McDonald, the team is “light years ahead” in it’s development compared to this time last year, when the Toppers had to go through a “get to know you” period with their new coach.

Although the Toppers are going to be fighting youth this season with freshmen William Green, Jamal Crook, Jordan Swing and Caden Dickerson all joining the team over the summer, McDonald said it’s not an excuse.

“I really am going to do my best this year to not use the word young,” McDonald said. “I hate that word, and it’s an excuse a lot, so I don’t want to use it.”

As opposed to last season when depth wasn’t always available, McDonald expects the six through 10 spots to get plenty of minutes — sometimes more than the starters.

“Depth was a huge issue I felt like in terms of our development,” McDonald said. “We couldn’t simulate game conditions in our practices, and that’s changed.”

-Jonathan Lintner

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Hilltopper Hysteria kicks off season

We’re here courtside at Hilltopper Hysteria, Western’s basketball season-opening event. The Lady Toppers and Toppers were just introduced to the crowd. Junior forward Sergio Kerusch drew the loudest applause, wearing a wig and white fedora and moonwalking onto the court. The women’s team is about to scrimmage, and we’ll keep you updated on the events throughout the night.

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Halftime: WKU 37, Illinois 29

So as you’ve probably seen, WKU is on fire in all aspects of the offense (except maybe free throw shooting). That 17-4 run in a 5:19 span in the middle of the half gave them the cushion they needed. But remember that this is Illinois, and as they showed in spurts in the first half, if they can successfully slow the pace to a grinding hault, they can lull WKU into submission. There’s still a long way to go, but the Toppers are at full bore and making all the pundits look very smart for picking them to win this one.

Despite all the talk about Illinois’ size, WKU is outrebounding the Fighting Illini 23-15, though that can be credited mostly to Illinois’ 1-for-9 shooting from three point range. Their deep clangers have forced long rebounds that the WKU guards have retrieved while Illinois’ big men are below the basket. Orlando Mendez-Valdez has five rebounds of his own, and Kerusch has eight.

WKU shot 45.5 percent (15-for-33) in the half, including 5-for-12 (41.7 percent) form three. Illinois shot 38.7 percent (12-for-31).

Jeremy Evans’ block on Demetri McCamey really set the tone for the first half. The block had the look of the one Evans had on Louisville’s Samardo Samuels this season.

Steffphon Pettigrew had seven points in the first eight minutes of the half, reminiscent of his performance in the Sun Belt Conference tournament against South Alabama in the finals, when he had nine early points to help set the pace for WKU. He’s tied for the lead among scorers in this game with seven.

The second half is moments away. Stay tuned postgame for thoughts and reaction, and be sure to go to WKUHerald.com for the postgame coverage.

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Second half, 3:57 to go: WKU 55, USA 50

DeAndrae Ross hits a deep two to bring USA closer, and they start trapping in the backcourt again, something WKU has had trouble with this half. WKU was able to get it up the court, and it led to a big dunk by Kerusch, which was followed by a Coleman layup for USA. Magley makes a great fake under the basket and gets the foul.

D.J. Magley is playing his best ball of the tournament. He’s got six points and six rebounds, four of those offensive. He’s been making the little plays and the unexpected (i.e. the foul line jumper) that this team needs him to make to succeed.

-22,593 was the total announced attendance for the tournament, which is the biggest turnout since ’03. It’s good, but to become a bigger and better conference, fans have to travel more. It’s March Madness, people. You have to love it.

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