Different Stokes - Mizzou point guard upgrades his game

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- It wasn't the shot Wesley Stokes was looking to take, and he hasn't looked at it since.

"I haven't watched it," said Stokes, Missouri's sophomore point guard, of his buzzer-beater against Saint Louis on Dec. 3. "I don't watch it like that. If I watch it, I watch the whole game, not just that play."

Taking shots, even game winners that end up on highlight reels, isn't what coach Quin Snyder wants from Stokes, the point guard in his second year at Missouri. He's been trusted with a more crucial task: getting the ball to stars Kareem Rush and Clarence Gilbert.

"I'm really happy with the way I've been playing so far," said Stokes, a favorite right away in Columbia for his wild hair, now garnering national attention. "I've led my team to victories and I'm having fun out there -- and I'm playing defense."

That's where Stokes struggled at times last season, and in no game was it more noticeable than the Tigers' second-round loss in the NCAA tournament to eventual champion Duke. You can forgive Stokes for his play in the game; he was defending all-American Jason Williams, who scored 31 and had 9 assists.

It's a long way until March, but with Missouri 9-0 and ranked No. 2 to Duke's No. 1, there's potential for a rematch. More immediately, however, is Saturday's rematch against No. 15 Iowa; Missouri beat the Hawkeyes in the finals of the Guardians Classic last month.

This season, Stokes has started every game and is averaging 9.6 points to go with 5.6 assists. Both are a steady improvement over last season, when Stokes averaged 2 assists and 6.4 points while starting six games.

"I'm happy with my defense, but I'm most happy with my jump shot," Stokes said. "It's starting to come back around. It took a vacation my freshman year, but it's coming back around."

Stokes had gone just 1-for-6 before the final play against Saint Louis, but didn't have time to look for either Rush or Gilbert, the team's leading scorers.

Getting the inbound pass with just 4.8 seconds left, Stokes drove the length of the court -- sound familiar? -- before hitting an off-balance jumper from in-between two Billikens.

"I was going to try to get all the way to the basket and get fouled," Stokes said. "But I didn't have enough time, so I pulled up for the jump shot."

The 4.8 seconds Stokes had to make the shot, which kept the Tigers out of overtime with a 69-67 win, is the same amount of time UCLA's Tyus Edney needed in 1995 to drive the length of the court and score at the buzzer to knock Missouri out of the NCAA tournament.

For the spooky file, consider that both Stokes and Edney attended the same high school, Long Beach Poly, in suburban Los Angeles. And watching the repeat coast-to-coast drive was Saint Louis coach Lorenzo Romar and assistant Cameron Dollar; Romar was a coach at UCLA in 1995, Dollar a player.

Missouri needed the last-second shot to overcome a horrendous night from behind the arc. The Tigers made just a single 3-pointer against the Billikens, the worst effort in Snyder's three years at Missouri.

But against Southern University three days later, Missouri hit a record 17 3s in a 117-67 win. There wasn't a conscience effort to shoot more, Rush said, but better ball distribution that created open looks at the basket. Credit Stokes, who had a career-high 11 assists.

"By sharing the ball, we had the open shots and we took them," Rush said. "I think it was just making the extra pass."

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