COLUMBIA — Rockhurst senior Kyle Wolf looked at the same three pictures every day for the past four months.
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
Each time he stepped into the Hawklets’ home locker room, staring back at him were posters of the past state champions from the school — teams from 1989, 1987 and 1932.
Rockhurst coach Mark Nusbaum posted the pictures before the season, using them as a motivational tool.
After Saturday, the locker room art will need updating. So, too, will the banner in the school’s gymnasium.
Rockhurst defeated De Smet 73-59 in the Class 5 state championship game Saturday night at Mizzou Arena, capturing the fourth state title in school history.
“As soon as we get back,” Nusbaum said. “Their picture is going up on the wall.”
Perhaps Wolf will get his own frame. Wolf — a player who has put together a series of memorable games during Rockhurst’s postseason run — responded with his best Saturday.
Wolf scored a game-high 30 points and grabbed 12 rebounds while matched up against Butler recruit Nolan Berry.
It was simply the latest chapter in a story defined by its consistency. A senior forward, Wolf averaged 26.7 points per game during the playoffs and scored 19 or more points in six consecutive games.
“There he is,” Nusbaum said, patting Wolf on the leg after the game. “Mr. Consistency.”
“He was automatic tonight,” added senior point guard Connor Kuhlmann while shrugging his shoulders.
A day after admitting nerves played a role in the early minutes of Rockhurst’s semifinal victory, Wolf shook aside any butterflies and scored 12 points in the opening half.
He wasn’t the only one producing for Rockhurst. Eight players scored in the first half for the Hawklets, who built a 14-point lead in the second quarter before taking a six-point edge into the locker room.
“I know I didn’t want to go out losing as a senior,” Wolf said. “So I worked really hard to stay within the offense but get going early. ... Once I hit the first couple of shots, I was ready to go.”
As good as Wolf was early, though, he was even better late. He scored 18 more points after halftime and helped Rockhurst fend off any late charges from De Smet.
De Smet, which finished the season 25-7, got 20 points from point guard Jimmy Barton and 16 more from Berry.
Rockhurst, 26-5, expanded the halftime margin to 11 after three quarters and maintained at least a nine-point lead for the entire fourth quarter.
The result: A team that started its season with two losses in its first five games was the one left standing in March.
“All year we’ve been working toward our goal of a state championship,” said Kuhlmann, who had seven points before fouling out in the fourth quarter. “We hit a rough patch at the beginning of the year, but we peaked at the right time and played really well throughout the playoffs.”