Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2022*

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 53 of 63

54 JANUARY 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED MEN'S BASKETBALL BY PATRICK ENGEL B lake Wesley, moments after his hasty pass found an unsus- pecting photographer instead of a teammate, turned to a trick from one of Notre Dame's senior leaders as a pick-me-up. Wesley backpedaled down the court after his costly turnover, lowered his hands from his head and smacked them together for one mighty clap. "In the locker room, Dane Goodwin does a power clap," Wesley said. "Every time he does a power clap, it's [on to] the next play. I did that." Time to move on. In a tie game against No. 10 Kentucky with 51 seconds left, Notre Dame now needed a stop. Wesley, Notre Dame's freshman guard, had no room to let frustration from his mistake linger. He snapped — er, clapped — out of it and authored an ending this pro- gram craved. On a night where Notre Dame threw a party for beloved program icon La- Phonso Ellis, its budding star produced the defining moment of his nascent ca- reer. The kid from The Bend lit the fuse on a Purcell Pavilion party. It was only fitting Notre Dame's last local standout, guard Demetrius Jackson, was on hand to watch. Notre Dame forced that neces- sary stop, with Wesley punctuating it by pulling down a defensive rebound. Then, he raised his hand when Notre Dame needed a lift. Wesley's free throw line jumper with 12 seconds left pushed Notre Dame ahead of Kentucky and proved to be the winning shot in a 66-62 victory Dec. 11 that ended a three-game skid. The Fighting Irish (4-4, 0-1 ACC) have renewed life in a season that was teeter- ing on the cusp of a backslide. They also have an emerging talent who will make every game worth watching no matter where this year goes. "To bounce back after the turnover — he was trying to make a play because he's the one guy who can — and then go, 'I'm just going to win this one,' that's special stuff," head coach Mike Brey said. With all due respect to this team's se- nior core, and they deserve plenty for their play against Kentucky, it's Wesley who can have the most powerful effect on Notre Dame's ceiling this year. He's also the team's clear alpha. Eight games into his career, the South Bend native is not only a mem- ory maker, but an undeniable spark. He has led Notre Dame in scoring two of the last three games. His 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting against Kentucky tied Goodwin for the team lead. He also had three assists. Through eight contests, he was Notre Dame's second leading scorer (13.0 points per game). The Irish understand they have to hitch their trailer to Wesley and go along for the ride. It might have bumps. Its promise, though, is enticing. This game is the moment everyone on the home bench realized it. Brey slid Wesley into the starting lineup in place of senior point guard Prentiss Hubb eight days earlier at Bos- BUDDING STAR Freshman guard Blake Wesley comes up clutch as his role continues to grow Wesley hit the winning shot in a 66-62 victory over No. 10 Kentucky Dec. 11 and was averaging 13.0 points per game through eight contests. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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