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November 10, 2009

Tops Cruise To 90-37 Exhbition Win

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With a huge lead and the final seconds ticking off the clock, there was no laying back on his heels.

Xavier (La.) senior forward Landon Bussie pushed the ball up the court and went up for what he thought would be a layup to end the half. Using those spring-loaded heels, junior forward Sergio Kerusch leaped from behind and to Bussie's left for an emphatic block.

Sure, it was just an exhibition game, but WKU made it a point to play at a high intensity throughout, in easily dispatching the Gold Rush 90-37.

"We've been waiting for this game for a long time," Kerusch said. "All the practices and all the hard work that went into it, we were ready to just get out and play an opponent. We were like, let's show the Hilltopper fans what we're made of."

When a Topper didn't play at a high intensity, he was soon yanked out of the game by coach Ken McDonald. Kerusch fell into that category in the second half, when he played what McDonald felt was out of control and was immediately substituted out.

"We've gotta continue to work on special situations," McDonald said. "We have to continue to work on, there are a lot of things to clean up on the defensive end. There's a lot of things offensively to put in still. We've got to know and be very familiar with our offense, so we execute and we don't beat ourselves. We can't be a team that turns the ball over, doesn't screen, doesn't cut hard, those types of things. We'll put a huge focal point this week on offense to execute and to make sure we get a shot every time."

It's easy for McDonald to find a replacement. All 13 players played, each also scoring at least two points.

Kerusch led the way with a game-high 19 points, but junior forward Cliff Dixon was right behind with 17 points.

"It was big," Dixon said. "I've got my name on the back of my jersey. I was like, once I seen that, I knew it was real. I knew it was real, when I went out there, to see all those people in the stands. I'm here for two years, so I wanted to let them know that I'm gonna come here, work hard and do whatever it takes to win."

Each player seemed to fill their role all night. Senior guard Anthony Sally was deft moving the ball around for the most part, with 11 assists, senior forward Jeremy Evans cleaned up the glass with 12 rebounds and senior guard A.J. Slaughter kept things in order on the floor with a team-high 24 minutes in which he scored 15 points.

Sally's work might be the most impressive. A year after he finished with more assists than turnovers by a narrow margin, he had just two turnovers tonight.

"I know what I wanna do this year," Sally said. "As far as me, I know how it was last year and that's gone. I'm just happy with it. I had a goal this year that I was gonna average ten assists. With the players that we've got, I feel like I can do it, just by me penetrating and dishing off like I was tonight."

There's still work to do for the Toppers, who start the season Monday in the pre-season NIT at LSU. They'll play Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the first game, before playing either Indiana State or LSU on Tuesday.

No matter the opponent, WKU has made it a point to play at a high intensity. It's been instilled by McDonald. As was shown tonight, if someone isn't playing up to par, they'll be quickly replaced.

"The thing about this team is, we're about championship effort," Kerusch said. "We're about winning as a cohesive unit. We just wanna do whatever it takes, everybody just wants to go in and do their little part."

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