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    BLOG: One Cold March Day

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    THE FACTOID: The 'Cats scrimmaged Saturday for the first time this spring in gray, raw, November weather. The session lasted some 85 plays and later, when asked what he got out of the exercise, Pat Fitzgerald most notably said, "We've got some passion. We've got some fire in our belly. I think we're a physical football team. A lot of little things we've got to clean up. . . But I like the attitude of the ball club."

    THE DECISION GOES TO: The dominant unit Saturday was the defense, which held the offense without a touchdown until (if you will) the fourth quarter of the scrimmage. This was significant for two reasons. The first, quite obviously, are the memories of those defensive breakdowns last season that so damaged the team's chances for success. The other is that, just two days earlier, the offense dominated the defense in practice. "This whole season is about responding to what happened last year. It's really about redemption," senior tackle Brian Arnfelt would later explain. "We looked at the film (of last season) and just said, 'You've got to strive to be the best you can. You can't accept mediocrity.'

     "So we were doing great before the break, we came back, the offense really got after us on Thursday. We just kind of said in our position meeting throughout the whole defensive squad, 'We can't let that happen.' You see some things that could trickle into what happened last year, so we came out here with an attitude today that we're going to get after it. I'm really proud of how everyone responded. Everyone came out juiced. Yeah, sassy. A real attitude."

    And just what did they see on that Thursday tape that could lead to a repeat of last season?

    "You see people accepting just-do-your-job, real internalized, don't get excited about anyone else, don't really get excited when anyone else makes a play. You can see when people start to get tired, we practice real fast, you see when people start to get tired things break down. Things are going to happen on offense, this is a high-potent offense league. So things are going to happen, but the key to a great defense is how you respond. Last year, looking at the film, we didn't have that. We didn't have it Thursday. But we showed we had it today."

    "They're doing a good job. They're doing a very good job," Fitzgerald said later when Arnfelt's observations were passed along to him. "They're gaining on it. They've got an attitude about them. You know, spring ball, you're going to have that ebb and flow. The offense is going to have a good day, and they did. They kicked the hind butts of our defense on Thursday. But snapshot on the field, the shoe's on the other foot right now."

    IN PARTICULAR: "I thought I saw some stuff from our defensive line that I was hoping to see, especially with a young man like (redshirt freshman end) Deonte Gibson," Fitzgerald also said. "I thought he made an impact today. You go in and watch the video. But he's a guy who jumped out to me. I saw (redshirt freshman tackle) C.J. Robbins make a play. I see Brian Arnfelt really leading that group. (Sophomore tackle) Chance Carter's really coming on along with (junior tackle) Will Hampton, and (junior end) Tyler Scott to me is on the cusp of being a breakout guy nationally.  He's got some special qualities. I like that group."

    A SUBTLE CHANGE: Somewhere in the (again, if you will) third quarter of the scrimmage, quarterback Kain Colter got flushed from the pocket, rolled left, rolled back right, resisted the urge to bolt and finally hooked up with Tony Jones for an apparent 43-yard touchdown pass that was erased by a penalty. Two plays later, on second-and-nine, his pocket again broke down, and here he stepped up, stayed put once more and found Rashad Lawrence for 23 yards and a first down.  

    "I noticed that last year, a lot of times I scrambled to run," he would say when his patience in the pocket was mentioned to him. "I watched (Eagle quarterback) Michael Vick a lot, I watched film of a lot of quarterbacks in the league, and one thing I noticed from them is they scrambled to throw first. Michael Vick a lot of times will make an amazing move and break the pocket, and he has his eyes downfield. That's where a lot of big plays comes from because sometimes the defense breaks down or bites up on you on the run. So one thing I've been focusing on is, once I get out of the pocket, keep my eyes downfield and hopefully make some plays."

    But isn't not-running against his instinct?

    "It is. But I feel as a quarterback, especially with all these play makers around me, my job is to just manage the game and get the ball to these guys because they're going to make big plays, they're going to boost my stats when I get them the ball. You know, maybe in high school I felt I had to run, I had to be the guy to make the play. But now that I've got all these great athletes around me, I can just break the pocket, dump it down and let them go make a play. That's something I'm going to focus on."

    Now the apparent touchdown to Jones is remembered.

    "That's something we're going to develop with me, Tony, Kyle (Prater), Rashad. That's something we work on. A lot of times protection's going to break down and, with a mobile quarterback, you've got to be ready to make a move and go. I feel that's where a lot of big plays happen. I came to the sideline after that, I said, 'Be ready when I scramble out to get open and make a play. I'm going to look for you.' It's tough for a DB to cover more than 10 seconds. So if you're out there, you drop back for five seconds, now you're scrambling, it's going to be tough to stay with them."

    THE MINDSET: Colter, as we have noted along the way this spring, has grasped the mantle of team leader and pinned it securely to his shoulders. He again touched on that fact Saturday, explaining: "I feel as a quarterback, when things go wrong, or things aren't going the way you want, you have to be the one that raises the level and gets the guys going again. I'm happy to be the guy that the offense and the team looks to when things are going down. I want to be the guy that goes out there and makes the game-changing play or helps the team get momentum back. I feel that's the biggest thing I learned from Dan (Persa). He did that all last year and his junior year. I learned a lot from him."

    NEW KID ON THE BLOCK: Wide receiver Kyle Prater, the Proviso West grad and highly-regarded transfer from USC, produced no highlight moments on Saturday. But later he did meet the cameras and the microphones for the first time since he officially joined the 'Cats last Monday. Some outtakes:

    *On his appeal to the NCAA for immediate eligibility: "I don't really know the status of what's going on. I'm just worrying about what's going on (here). That's helping my team get better and focusing on the task at hand. That's me getting better and studying the playbook and comprehending everything."

    *On Colter's comment earlier in the week that he has to prove himself to his new teammates: "When you're a freshman, you have to prove yourself off the top. So I feel I'm doing that again by coming in as a transfer. But as long as I come out here and earn my teammates' respect and have fun and show them that I'm a great character, everything's going to be all right."

    *On how he plans to earn that respect: "Just being me. I'm not different from them. I'm just coming out here and staying humble and making everything about us. It's not about me. It's always going to be about the team, and I'm going to keep it that way."

    *On practicing for the first time last Monday: "I wasn't much nervous. I was anxious. I was just ready to get back on the field. I'd been gone for so long, I was just ready to get back out there."

    *On getting clocked by safety Jimmy Hall, whose hit after a Prater catch left the receiver on all fours and in need of ministration: "Coach Fitzgerald joked around with me and said, 'Welcome back.' No. That was a great play by Jimmy. That was a great hit by him. But sometimes you've got to go up and make those plays. That's the type of player I am. Fearless. So I'm going to go make those plays."

    *On having to master a new offense in a new environment: "I like to get thrown into the fire and working under pressure. You can learn better that way. So the mistakes I make, I'm going to learn from them. I never make the same mistake twice."

    *On the expectations surrounding him: "I'm always optimistic. I always set the bar high for anything I do."

    AND FINALLY: The 'Cats exited Saturday's scrimmage with no apparent injuries.

     














    By Maria Tedeschi

    Kingsley Elementary School held an all school assembly on Wednesday March 28 to conclude its study on the importance of wellness in all facets of life. Students at Kingsley have been learning about healthy eating, getting enough sleep, academic success and the importance of character. Coach Fitzgerald concluded the school's curriculum of wellness by speaking to the group of third, fourth and fifth graders about attitude, resilience and being a team player. 

    Coach Fitzgerald also spoke about self-control and the importance of having composure. Joining Coach Fitzgerald were sophomores, Timmy Vernon and Tyler Scott and junior Roderick Goodlow from the Northwestern football team. Players answered questions concerning what it is like to be a student-athlete and how staying healthy can affect all areas of your game.

    After the assembly, the players were given a tour of the school. At the tour's conclusion, Timmy, Tyler and Roderick joined the students outside for recess, where they participated in football drills and games.

    Video: Fitz and Players at Kingsley Elementary School

    Northwestern Athletics Volunteers to Feed Thousands

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    Check out a photo gallery from the Whole Foods Parking Lot!

    By Jocelyn Vinoya Serranilla

    The parking lot of Whole Foods in Northbrook, Ill., became an unlikely source of spring workouts for fellow Northwestern Wildcats student-athletes Tim Weak and Dannielle Diamant as they gripped, grabbed and lifted 40-pound boxes of whole chicken fryers and leg quarters while volunteering for a community outreach project.

    BLOG: Spring Fever

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    THE FACTOID: The 'Cats practiced in full gear Thursday morning. "It's great to be back playing football," Pat Fitzgerald later said. "Having two weeks off (for exams and spring break), we talked about it as coaches yesterday, we can't wait to work through these next two days with the good and the bad and just teach and coach. I think we're in pretty good cardio shape. We're not in calloused football shape yet. . . Hopefully by this time next week we will be."

    THE PLAN: On Saturday, for the first time this spring, the 'Cats will scrimmage. Fitzgerald's hope is that it goes for 100 plays.

    SIGHT SEEN: Kain Colter delivered the pass toward wide receiver Kyle Prater, the highly-regarded transfer from USC. This was some 90 minutes into Thursday's practice and now here came sophomore safety Jimmy Hall, who just drilled Prater in the sternum. Down the receiver went, down on all fours, and when he rose long seconds later and after administration from a trainer, there behind him were some remnants of his breakfast. But here he jogged back to his teammates, got a smile and a high five from Fitzgerald, and for the rest of the morning showed no ill effects as he took his normal reps.

    "They ran a little Cover Two and he got around the corner and, well, it's one of those throws you're probably gonna have to take a little shot," Colter later said when asked about the play. "But he made the catch. Hopefully (in the future) I'll get it on him a little more back shoulder. But he made the catch and got the wind knocked out of him a little bit. But he popped right back up."
            
    "I think it's just wonderful for Kyle to play football," Fitzgerald said with a big grin. "I made fun of him. 'First time you've been hit in about 48 months.' Good. It was great. I'm really happy for him to experience those things. He's learning how to be a football player again. It's been a long road for him."

    THE QUARTERBACK: He is, by virtue of his position, the most important of all the 'Cats, and so the eyes are interested and follow Kain Colter as he moves through practices. Here, in one scene, running back Cermak Bland busts a draw play for a touchdown, and there is Colter dashing 40 yards down the field to congratulate him with a series of head slaps. Here, in another scene, Trevor Siemian is choreographing the offense, and there is Colter 10 yards behind him and staring intently. Here, in one last scene, the action is momentarily paused, and there is Colter slaloming among his offensive lineman and exchanging words with those men who protect him.

    We cannot recall similar scenes from last fall and so we wonder later about this change, which clearly reflect Colter as a leader-in-action. "Last season," he will say, "Dan (Persa) was here and I kind of had to take a back seat and fit in where I could, whether it was receiver or running back. This time, Dan, Drake (Dunsmore, the superback), Jeremy (Ebert, the wide receiver), all those guys are gone and it's time for me to step up in the leadership role and take the team over."

    So he feels freer now that Persa has graduated?

    "I don't know if it's so much me feeling more free. But I felt you had a guy who was All Big Ten, a guy who had been here five years, and I didn't want to overstep my territory. There is just something about being the starting quarterback, you can control the whole offense, and the whole team for that matter. Everybody looks to you, whether you realize it or not, everybody's looking to you about where to go. Dan did a great job with that and me stepping in as a freshman and sophomore, I was still trying to learn my way around things. But I was able to pick his brain a little bit and as I came into this season I was able to feel like I'm going to be the starting quarterback and have control of the offense and have guys looking up to me. Now, as far as having football knowledge, I can help them out. I'm just trying to lead by example. If a guy sees me working hard, I feel that might give him a better chance to work hard and do the right things."

    So he's consciously paying more attention now to doing those things a leader must do?

    "I think so. I think as a freshman and sophomore, I'm paying a little bit of attention to me and doing what I can do. I'm trying to make the plays I can make and to show I can get on the field. Now that I've gotten on the field and shown I can make plays, I can try to help these young guys along and show them what to do and help them get better and focus on them a little bit more."

    NO SURPRISE HERE: Colter's new demeanor is mentioned to Fitzgerald and immediately he says, "I've noticed that with every one of our quarterbacks. As the incumbent or the previous quarterback matriculates out of the program, there's just that next step that happens. Kain has always had, I think, a belief system about himself. He has a confidence, a belief in himself. But he's always been very, very respectful of Dan. Now that Dan's matriculated out of the program, he looks at it as it's his role to be that guy. And he should be. And he is."

    And just how important is it that he assumes that role?

    "It was happening last year from the standpoint of, when he got thrust into the starting role, it happened. He assumed it, but he was just very respectful to Dan, if that makes sense. If you were to poll our entire football team and say, 'Do you have 100 percent confidence and belief that Kain Colter can lead us to a Rose Bowl championship?' it would be 100 percent yes. So he's got that kind of respect. That natural progression just happened. It happened when C.J. (Bacher) took over, when Mike (Kafka) took over, when Danny took over. Now Kain."

    QUICKLY NOTED: Siemian, Colter's backup, rode into the conversation on the coattails of that observation, and of him Fitzgerald said, "He's just growing. He's in the mix now. Last year, when all of a sudden he got thrust into the action when Danny was out early, I think that sweet taste of experience really motivated him. He did a great job in the winter. You can see his physique is completely different from when he showed up here as a pencil neck as a freshman. He looks so much better. He's more fluid running. Mechanically, he's using his lower body so much more when he's throwing. Leadership wise, he's just gaining more confidence. When you get more confidence, you're willing to step out a little bit, be the bell cow. He's gaining on that.". . . This time of year, Fitzgerald is normally (and understandably) reticent when asked to single out individuals who have impressed him with their performances. It is, after all, still early. But Thursday, when asked just that when it came to his defense, he mentioned linemen Tyler Scott and Brian Arnfelt; the linebacking trio of David Nwabuisi, Collin Ellis and Chi Chi Ariguzo; and safety Ibraheim Campbell. Asked specifically if redshirt freshman corner Nick VanHoose, who has looked good, has a shot at a starting job, he said, "Sure. Anyone of those guys does right now. It's open competition."

    AND FINALLY: Last year Wisconsin won the inaugural Big Ten title game behind quarterback Russell Wilson, who transferred in as a post-graduate from North Carolina State. Now the Badgers have signed on Danny O'Brien, a post-graduate from Maryland, who will be eligible immediately while pursuing a master's in a program not offered by the Terps. "If I were Bret (Bielema, the Badger coach), I'd do the same thing. I have no problem with that," Fitzgerald said when asked about this, and then he smiled. "I'm actually going to see him tonight at the Wisconsin High School Coaches Clinic. I'll congratulate him on his free agent pickup."

    BLOG: Creating 'A New Beast'

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    THE FACTOID: One of moviedom's most memorable lines is that spat out in Cool Hand Luke by the Captain, that dictatorial prison warden played by Strother Martin. Says he to Paul Newman, his most intransigent inmate: "What we've got here is (a) failure to communicate."

    BLOG: Back From Break

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    THE FACTOID: The 'Cats returned to practice Monday after 16 days away for final exams and the ever-popular spring break. Many were noticeably tanner than they were when last viewed.

    SIGHT SEEN: The person-of-interest here was the 6-foot-5 wide receiver Kyle Prater, the Proviso West grad who transferred in after spending two seasons (one as a redshirt) at USC.

    BLOG: A Look Back at NCAA's

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    Northwestern had a successful conclusion to the 2011-12 wrestling season, placing in the top 10 and crowning two All-Americans at the 2012 NCAA Wrestling Championships. Below is a list of links to various articles, photo galleries and videos detailing NU's three days in St. Louis.

     


    On Tuesday, March 20, after Northwestern softball run-ruled Massachusetts and Hartford during its Spring Break 2012 trip to Tampa and Clearwater, Fla., the Wildcats headed to George M. Steinbrenner Stadium to catch a New York Yankees spring training game and meet Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

    The Morning After - Northwestern vs. Akron

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    This was surely familiar territory for the 'Cats, who had spent so much of their season accompanied by Close Game. They were now best buddies, fast friends, constant companions, and this Tuesday night that pair was together again at Welsh-Ryan as the 'Cats dueled with Akron in an opening round game of the NIT.

     

    Through the last 10 minutes of this affair no more than four points would ever separate these teams and now, with 4:22 remaining, the Zips' Quincy Diggs dropped a three from the left wing over Alex Marcotullio that put his team up a point. JerShon Cobb, a 'Cat force all night, immediately responded with a 16-footer, and when John Shurna tipped in Marcotullio's missed layup, they were up three at 2:28.

     

    Now, for one of the few times this evening, they settled into their 1-3-1 zone, which slowed the Zips. But at 2:10 Drew Crawford committed one foul that gave them a new shot clock and then, at 1:49, he committed another as Brian Walsh put up a three that missed from the left wing. Walsh would not miss his trio of free throws, which tied this one up for the seventh time, but just 16 seconds later Shurna offered a three from up top that kissed the front of the rim before bleeding over and through. "We want the best shot for the team," he would later say, thinking back to this moment. "But being a senior, it's our final games. So I do want the ball in my hands then."

     

    Now the ball was again in the hands of Walsh, a 45.5 percent three-point shooter on the season, and here he tried to answer Shurna with one of his own from the left wing. It was short and was collected by Marcotullio and down came the 'Cats with a chance to pad there lead. But Shurna, driving the lane, lost the ball, and now it was the Zips on the attack, the Zips' Alex Abreu missing a layup, the Zips' Walsh missing one more three (he would finish one-of-seven from that distance), the Zips finally fouling Dave Sobolewski and sending him to the line for a one-and-one at 12.1.

     

    He missed the front end and, one last time, Akron moved up the court with a chance to tie.

     

     

    ******

     

     

    The 'Cats, of course, did not want to be playing on this Tuesday night in the NIT. Their goal had been the NCAA Tournament, but once again they had been denied admission to that dance. The same was certainly true of the Zips, the regular season champs of the Mid-American Conference. But they had lost by a point in their tourney final to Ohio, so here they were faced off against a Big Ten opponent for just the 24th time in their history.

     

    They had not defeated a team from that league since they topped Penn State way back in the '37-'38 season, and their streak of futility appeared certain to continue through the first 18 minutes of this Tuesday night at Welsh-Ryan. "I thought we really came out to play, had a lot of energy, playing really well in the first half offensively," 'Cat coach Bill Carmody would later say, and he was correct.

     

    Crawford was afire, going eight-of-10 in that half and finishing it with 19 points. Cobb was adding to his late season surge, going four-of-five in that half and finishing it with 11 points. Shurna was himself, going four-of-10 in that half and finishing it with 10 points. "Their niche (style of play) is very difficult. We struggled with it in the first half," Zip coach Keith Dambrot would later say, and here is the one stat that shows you he was not exaggerating. On the year, his team had allowed opponents to make just 29.7 percent of their threes. But on this night, in this half, the 'Cats went five-of-11 (45.5 percent) from that distance.

     

    That was the major reason they were up 15 with just 1:29 separating them from their locker room, but then the Zips' Chauncey Gilliam hit a three and Shurna missed a layup; the Zips' Abreu dropped a layup and Nick Fruendt missed a three; and the Zips' Diggs dropped another layup just before the buzzer to pull them to within eight. "We got a little sloppy toward the end of the first half and that allowed them back in the game," Shurna would later admit.

     

    "They were re-energized because of that," Carmody said even more pointedly, "and then they came out in the second half and wouldn't go away."

     

     

    ******

     

    Now, down three and with the clock under 10, the Zips put the ball in the hands of Diggs, who would end this night as their leading scorer. He was two steps beyond the arc, was searching for a shot that could tie this one up, but before he could find it here came Shurna to foul him intentionally and send him to the line for a one-and-one.

     

    Three nights earlier, in their MAC tourney final with Ohio, his teammate Abreu had gone to the line for a pair with the Zips down three at 3.1. He would make the first, would try to miss the second and would doom them to defeat when it still went in. Now, at Welsh-Ryan with 3.7 remaining, Diggs made the first, his coach Dambrot called time and out they came for the second. "I just wanted to box out the guys on the line, on the circle," Carmody would later say, recalling his instructions in the huddle. "I wanted to do that, and they're not going to call any fouls. They're going to push you under the basket, that's what they're going to do, so you go into him first."

     

    Then here is Diggs at the line and, without hesitation, without a bit of pretense, without going through any kind of routine, he sends a rope toward the basket. "That caught us a little off guard," Shurna later admitted, and in the scrum that followed the ball went out-of-bounds off the hands of Crawford at 3.5 and again the Zips called time. "No. You never think negatively," Crawford would later say when asked if close losses past here crept into his mind.

     

    But another close loss is just what the 'Cats confronted now as Abreu inbounded the ball to Zeke Marshall, the Zips' seven-foot center. "We thought of throwing it to the rim to Zeke, but we thought that was a little predictable," Dambrot later said. "So we were actually trying to get the jumper for Zeke. We figured they wouldn't cover him as close. But they did cover him close."

     

    So Marshall, deep along the right baseline, kicked it back to Abreu, who was outside the arc on the right wing. "We got it back to arguably our best player," Dambrot would continue, "and he got it up there, which doesn't surprise me, and it looked like it's going in."

     

    "Yeah. It looked kinda good," agreed Crawford.

     

    "But it just didn't go in," said Dambrot.

     

    "It was pretty nerve-wracking," said Crawford. "We lost so many close games this year and we didn't want to go down that way. So we were all glad to see that shot miss."

     

    "So we enjoy this," Carmody would finally say. "But in these kinds of games, these one and done things, you just survive and move on."

    BLOG: Suited Up, At Last

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    THE FACTOID: The 'Cats practiced in full pads Thursday for the first time this spring and, through their last half-dozen periods, went 11-on-11. "I thought the guys carried them well," Pat Fitzgerald later said. "But it took us to the team periods, which is about an-hour-and-a-half into it, until it was, 'All right. We're playing football again. Real football. Not seven-on-seven.' So I thought the finish was much better than the start."

    Big Ten Tournament Preview Scattershots

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    * The chatter centers, of course, on just how many games the 'Cats need to win in the Big Ten tourney to assure themselves their school's first bid to that tourney sponsored by NCAA. But that is not where their heads reside. "You don't ever want to settle for, 'Win one game, win two games.' You want to be able to go out and have a chance at winning the tournament," explained forward Drew Crawford. "That's the way we feel every year. We're doing the same this year."

     

     

    * But this year, unlike all recent years, they now reside firmly on the NCAA tourney bubble, which makes them the kid of the moment, an object of curiosity, a feel-good story that has drawn expansive attention. This was reflected in the scene before their Tuesday practice at Welsh-Ryan, where there was a veritable battery of cameras and microphones and notebooks eager to capture their every comment before they ventured off on what could be an historic journey. Yet this hype now surrounding the 'Cats only caused John Shurna to chuckle. "Obviously, this is exciting," he would then say when asked about it. "This is what you play for. You want to be playing your best basketball in March, you want to be playing well in March, and I think we've been playing well. But to be honest, we've been asked the tournament question since the start of the year. There's a little more attention now obviously, but we're all used to the question being brought up and maybe that's to our advantage."

     

     

    * 'Cat coach Bill Carmody, when asked how often he talked to his team about the NCAA tourney, initially said, "I don't think I ever talked about it." But then he got a good laugh from the masses when he continued, "I think maybe six weeks ago, and this was maybe the only time all year, I said if we end up eight-and-ten (in conference play), and this was when we're two-and-six, I said if we're eight-and-ten and do something in the conference (tournament), we'll be in the discussion. That's where we are. But I wish I'd said ten-and-eight. They listen well."

     

     

    * No 'Cat denied hearing the chatter, no 'Cat feigned ignorance when it came to the momentousness of the occasion. But when asked about facing yet-one-more must-game in Minnesota on Thursday, they did fall back on an old chestnut to explain their mindset. "We're just taking it one game at a time and one step at a time," was how guard Alex Marcotullio put it. "The big picture is always there. Our ultimate goal's always been to get to the NCAA Tournament. But we knew we couldn't look ahead of anybody and that every game is do-or-die. Even though it might not be, for us it really was."

     

    "I wouldn't even call all these games (they've played since the start of February) must-win. We don't have that mindset going into games," said Crawford. "We take each game like any other. They're all extremely important because, at the end of the day, they all count on your record, they all count on your conference record, they all count when it comes to the tournament. So we try to prepare for everyone the same. There is a lot of hype around the game, but that comes from outside sources. We try to treat the games the same within the team. That's not to say we're not extremely hungry and excited for the game. It's a huge one."

     

     

    * Since the game is the thing, let's mute the chatter here and now go there. In Minneapolis on Jan. 22, the 'Cats missed their first 14 field goal attempts, fell into an 11-0 hole and lost to the Gophs by 23. But at Welsh-Ryan a month later, the 'Cats turned over the Gophs 21 times, broke open the affair late in the first half and cruised to an 11-point win. When asked what his team learned about the Gophs in that second meeting, Crawford said, "They played a little bit of zone in that game and so we have to be ready for that. Rebounding's always key against them, and then transition defense as well."

     

     

    * In that second game, the Gophs had a 41-20 rebounding advantage over the 'Cats. In their first game, that advantage was 40-28. It is no wonder, then, that Carmody said, "With us, it's always rebounding (that's important)."

     

     

    * So that is one thing to look for. Another is the Gophs' height, length and athleticism, which can make it tough to score inside. Then there is their overall defense, which is aggressively in an opponent's grill. But when asked if all that could make it tough for him to attack the basket, as he likes to do, Crawford said, "I wouldn't say too much. You still maintain your aggression and you're still able to do the things you do because our offense is so fluid and we're able to find a lot of opportunities."

     

     

    * The wild card here is 'Cat guard JerShon Cobb, who sat out the loss in Minnesota with an injury and was just three games into his return when the teams played at Welsh-Ryan. That night, his first as a starter all season, he went 0-of-3 from the field, and he followed that up by going 1-8 against Michigan. "Who'd be play after Michigan? Ohio State (actually, Penn State)?" he would say on Tuesday. "I made a shot then. Then it was, 'OK. I can still play basketball."

     

    And now? "I'm back," he declared. "I'm more comfortable on the floor."

     

               

    * Cobb, said Carmody, is not all the way back. "He's got to come out of games sometimes when he's tired," he explained. But then he added, "He's also gotten a little more comfortable, he's feeling better, and he was certainly instrumental in our comeback the other night (at Iowa). He even hit some shots. So he's certainly given us another guy, a guy who can do some things off the bounce. That's one thing I think is real important for us."

     

     

    * Cobb, who before his injuries was expected to be the third 'Cat scorer behind Shurna and Crawford, was most certainly instrumental last Saturday in Iowa City, where he went 6-of-11 while finishing with 13 points. "He's been great for us," Shurna would say of him. "He's improving each game, each practice, and that's huge for us, an extra body that's really capable of making plays. I probably just had a bad quote there saying an extra body. He's definitely much more than that. He's a tremendous player, and the healthier he gets, the more he plays, the better he is. He's in the gym all the time, so he's going to continue to get better, which is huge for us."

     

     

    * And finally, Shurna, on the bubble and bracketology and all things related: "I won't lie and say I'm not watching other teams. But when it comes down to it, you have to really focus on Minnesota. You can't focus on other teams."

    BLOG: Pat Fitzgerald's Spring Preview, Part II

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    This time last year 'Cat coach Pat Fitzgerald described the offseason as a period when you look under the hood of the car and analyze it and try to figure out how you can make it go faster while using less gas. So when NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski sat down with him two days before his team's first spring practice, he wondered first what Fitzgerald and his staff had discovered when they peeked under the hood this time around. What follows is Part II of Fitzgerald's two-part spring practice preview, a position-by-position assessment of the 'Cats.

    Northwestern students took to the dance floor over the weekend for Dance Marathon 2012 benefiting The Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation, and NU Athletics was proud to play a bigger role than ever in helping the dancers raise more than $1 million for the second-consecutive year.

     

    BLOG: Pat Fitzgerald's Spring Preview, Part I

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    This time last year 'Cat coach Pat Fitzgerald described the offseason as a period when you look under the hood of the car and analyze it and try to figure out how you can make it go faster while using less gas. So when NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski sat down with him two days before his team's first spring practice, he wondered first what Fitzgerald and his staff had discovered when they peeked under the hood this time around. What follows is Part I of Fitzgerald's two-part spring practice preview.

    BLOG: Winding Down

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    It's been a busy and exciting time for Northwestern fencing! With the Winter quarter finishing up, so is our season, and everyone can quickly feel the escalation leading up to NCAA Nationals over Spring break. Last weekend, we traveled back to NYC for one more go at some of the best teams in the country. In my last post I promised some exciting news and hopefully some hardware, and I can happily say that I kept that promise!

     

    The foil and saber squads secured bronze medals and the epee squad fought their way to silver, helping Northwestern finish second in overall team standings. With wins over teams such as St. John's, Columbia and Penn, it was a great morale boost heading into the three most important weekends of our season. But with such a whirlwind trip and not getting back to campus until past midnight on Sunday... it was clear that the 'Cats needed some R & R before getting back into to the gym. Have you guys not learned by now that if you pass out, I WILL take a picture of you? Also, shout out to the nice old man who let Kendrick take a catnap on his shoulder.
     


    We spent the week training hard, but keeping it light-hearted as well. It's easy to get caught up in the intensity of post-season action. I know I want to enjoy every moment of the rest of this amazing season, and stressing out never helps! This week we also finished up one of the best fencing clinics we've ever had. Seeing such a fun and lively group of kids get so excited about the sport of fencing really reminds us all why we're here in the first place. Thank you to all the kids for coming out and being so great- I can honestly say we learn from them just as much as they learn from us.
     


    We're loading up the bus and heading out to Notre Dame for the Midwest Fencing Conference Championships, which is sure to be a jam-packed and high-intensity weekend. Saturday is the individual event, while Sunday our squads will duke it out with the best of the conference to hopefully bring home some titles. Follow along on twitter @NCatFencing, and check back for my recap next weekend!

    Go Cats! - D

    Fast Break - Iowa Primer

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    LATE WEDNESDAY NIGHT, after their enervating loss to Ohio State, John Shurna and Drew Crawford stood together on the empty court. Alternately, as Welsh-Ryan Arena emptied, they talked softly or considered only their own thoughts, and long minutes would pass before they finally headed to the locker room. "We were just trying to stay positive," Crawford would later say of that stark portrait. "We both knew it was a tough game. We were both feeling the effects of that since it was such a difficult one. But we were telling each other that we had to come ready to play on Saturday (at Iowa), and that we've still got a great shot to finish the season strong. I told him, and he told me the same thing, that we're still a hungry team and it kind of showed at the end of the game when we were able to fight back. Even though it didn't turn out our way, it showed we really care about this and we're going to fight to the finish.". . .

     

    BUT EVEN LATER ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT, after he had returned home, the game still replayed itself inside Crawford's head. "I didn't sleep much. I bet not many of the guys on my team did sleep," he would say. "It was a great opportunity for us. But I think this also shows we're able to think ahead. You see guys out here on the court already even after a tough game. We're ready to go and get this thing moving again.". . .

     

    IT WAS THE MIDDLE of Thursday afternoon as Crawford spoke and all around him countless 'Cats were already loosening up for a practice that would not start for another 30 minutes. But he himself, after missing four of his five free-throw attempts against the Buckeyes, had arrived before any of them, and then set himself at the foul line of the west basket and took shot after shot after shot. "Free throws are about confidence. It takes a lot of confidence to make free throws, so I'm trying to build back up after a bad night of shooting," he would explain when he finally did take a break. "No, I haven't lost confidence in it. I kind of did a little bit last night. But the game before that, I think I was four-of-four. (He was thinking of the Indiana game in mid-February.) So it was a thing that was tough for me last night, which is why I'm in here now. I'm trying to get the feel back.". . .

     

    THE PERSISTENCE here manifested by Crawford could well symbolize all of the 'Cats, who visit Iowa Saturday for a game they surely need to keep their NCAA tourney hopes breathing. They have, of course, suffered numerous narrow losses this season, and against the Buckeyes often looked battered and about ready to go down for the count. But never have they surrendered, never have they thrown themselves (to borrow from Pat Fitzgerald) a pity party. They have instead exhibited an admirable resiliency they will be asked to again reflect against the Hawkeyes. "I think the resiliency comes from, I don't know, I don't know," Crawford will say when asked about its origin. "We're just a hungry team, a hungry team. All of our guys are passionate, we want to play well for each other. Because we care about each other so much, we really want to be able to come out every night and be able to play well. So after a tough loss, and we've faced a few this season, we've been able to play well the next game. It's no quit. You've got to be persistent. You've got to keep fighting.". . .

     

    REGGIE HEARN, the junior guard, would then add this when asked the origin of the steel in his team's spine. "Maybe it's from the sense that we feel we don't have much to lose," he would add. "Yes, there is pressure on us to get to the NCAA Tournament. But at the same time, as far as the program goes, Northwestern hasn't seen much success and we know we have the ability to do that. We have the talent, so it's just a matter of going out there and working for it. Wanting to make history, I think that puts a lot of fire in us. We're not dead in the water yet, we're not completely out of it. So you have to bounce back. You don't have a choice. We've got to move forward and take down Iowa.". . .

     

    BILL CARMODY, the 'Cat coach, has adamantly refused to label any one game a must-win for his team, and he would do that again here when considering this meeting with the Hawkeyes. He instead very simply said, "They're a team that's playing really well, and (the game has) some significance in the (conference) standings. So it's really important for them and maybe more important for us.". . .

     

    HEARN, IN CONTRAST, was more direct in his assessment. "We have to have a win. We can't lose this game," he declared. "So we're going to come out ready and you're going to see a lot of fight in us Saturday. If we want to be considered for the NCAA Tournament, barring winning the Big Ten Tournament, this is a game we have to have. So I think we're definitely going to be ready for it.". . .

     

    A MATTER OF WILL. That, in the end, is how this game is viewed by Hearn, who made that obvious when asked how the 'Cats will approach the Hawkeyes. He said, initially, that the coaches will let them know at that day's practice. But then he added, "The Xs and Os are all well and good, but what this game comes down to is what we just talked about. It's a must win. So if we bring the effort and intensity that we know we can bring, we're going to have success on Saturday.". . .

     

    THE 'CATS, at home on Feb. 9, were a smashing success against Iowa, taking them down by 19. But the Hawkeyes are a different animal in their own playpen, where they have defeated (most significantly) Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. "So," said Hearn, "I think it's going to be important that we come out and get off to a good start and show them we don't care that they've beaten an Indiana. We don't care that they've beaten a Michigan. We're going to be ready to play and we're hungry to get this NCAA Tournament bid and we need this game to do so."

     

    THE GAME, Hearn was now told, will also be Senior Night for the Hawkeyes, which prompted him to chuckle like some hard-hearted assassin. "We don't care at all," he finally said. "Ohio State didn't care about ours and we're not going to care about anyone else's."

    Morton Schapiro Talks College Sports on WBEZ

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    Story by Kalyn Kahler

    Nebraska

    In an era of change in college athletics, Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro joined ESPN.com senior writer Lester Munson Thursday to speak about the role of college sports and the challenges Northwestern faces as a premiere academic university competing at a high level on the "Afternoon Shift" of WBEZ, Chicago's public radio station.

    Listen to the interview on WBEZ.org

    The discussion's jumping-off point was Northwestern's own investments in athletics, particularly as it relates to its ongoing large-scale marketing campaign and the recent issuing of two 10-year contracts, namely those of athletic director Jim Phillips and head football coach Pat Fitzgerald.

    The Morning After - Northwestern vs. Ohio State

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    Now just 3.1 seconds remained and they were down a pair and without a time out and so they had but one option, get the ball into the hands of their stud. The 'Cats did just that Wednesday night in their showdown with Ohio State at Welsh-Ryan Arena, and here came John Shurna pushing it up the right side and getting two steps past half court and going up for a three as 6-foot-9 Buckeye center Jared Sullinger flew at him with arms extended. Right here, for a heartbeat that seemed to last an eon, time stood still.

     

    ******

     

    Back in the '70s, when the heavyweight champion was considered nothing less than the toughest guy in the world, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier offered up a trilogy of fights filled with bloodshed and brutality and--most significantly of all--displays of courage that expanded the definition of that word. This was especially true of the oft-under-appreciated Frazier, that threshing machine who never retreated, who waded relentlessly forward, who accepted countless snake licks to his face yet never backed down.

     

    That image, that image of Frazier bobbing and weaving and rolling his shoulders and refusing to entertain any thought of surrender, that is the image that came to mind Wednesday evening as the 'Cats went for their upset of No. 10 Ohio State. For sure there will be numbers from this affair that will be discussed, and they should. There were the Buckeyes' 20 offensive rebounds that delivered them 20 second-chance points, and there was their yawning 44-18 rebounding advantage overall. There were those 16 turnovers caused by the 'Cats and the 21 points they got off of them, and there was their 48.1 percent shooting (13-of-27) on their three-point attempts. There were Drew Crawford's 23 points and Shurna's 22 and those four Buckeyes who finished in double figures, and all of that surely mattered in this one's outcome.

     

    But, in this mind at least, the abiding image of this night is still the 'Cats as Frazier, is the 'Cats never retreating, never backing down, even as they found themselves on a trek that often seemed as hopeless as the one confronted by that mythological king named Sisyphus. Their boulder was the 10-point hole they found themselves in with this game just over six minutes old, and their task now was getting it back up close enough to the top to put some real pressure on their more-vaunted foe.

     

    They had one chance to do that when, down five, Reggie Hearn stripped Buck Aaron Craft and sent a pass on to Alex Marcotullio, who seemed free for a fast break layup. But Craft recovered and knocked the ball out of bounds, and soon enough Hearn missed a three and Ohio State's lead was back up to a dozen. They had another chance to do that when, down eight, they created one more turnover, but here JerShon Cobb committed a turnover of his own and soon enough Ohio State's lead was back up to 13.

     

    Once more, down eight early in the second half, they got the ball after a Sullinger travel, but this time Shurna missed a three from the right wing and soon enough Ohio State's lead was back up to 13. They got it to five at 10:05 when Crawford made one-of-two free throws, but less than three minutes later Ohio State's lead was back up to a dozen. "it didn't seem like we could overcome that lead of theirs," 'Cat coach Bill Carmody later said. "But then, all of a sudden, a lot of different guys came through."

     

    His guys, battered, bloodied, often on the ropes with wobbly knees, did just that, and the first of them was Marcotullio. With his team down a dozen at 5:25, he got his first points of the night by burying a three he launched right in front of his coach. Shurna, after Sullinger missed a layup, dropped a pair of free throws, and then here was Hearn with a layup at 3:44 that pulled the 'Cats to within five.

     

    Frenzy now filled their playpen, frenzy that transformed into vocal disbelief as Craft appeared to travel and no whistle blew and Craft found Deshaun Thomas for a three that put the Bucks back up eight. Still, like Frazier, the 'Cats kept coming, the 'Cats refused to retreat, the 'Cats responded with a three from the right corner by Dave Sobolewski, and then here was Shurna driving after a missed Ohio State three. Sullinger, its star, challenged the shot and bodied the 'Cat and sent him sprawling into the laps of the cheerleaders, but again there was no whistle even as the shot missed.

     

    "It's a physical conference. There's contact on a lot of plays. So," Shurna would resignedly say when asked about that play, but again he and his team came back. Buck William Buford missed a jumper, Sullinger rebounded, Sobolewski tied him up and the 'Cats, with the possession arrow in their favor, had the ball. Cobb made a pair of free throws with 47.1 seconds remaining to put them down three, Buck Lenzelle Smith Jr. walked under pressure from Crawford, Hearn missed a jumper, his teammate Thomas rebounded, but here came Cobb, stripping Thomas and calling his team's last time out with 16.9 left. Now, seconds later, the 6-foot-3 Marcotullio rose at the top of the circle, rose from NBA range and, with the 6-foot-7 Thomas in his grill, offered a three that found only net and tied this one up at 7.3. Finally, at last, the rock had reached the top of the mountain.

     

    ******

     

    Don't let Craft, the Buck point, rush the ball up the court, and then drop into a 1-3-1 zone. Those were the 'Cats instructions as they huddled after Ohio State called a time out. Rush the ball up the court and then choose one of three options. Those were Craft's instructions in his team's huddle and that is what he did, getting separation on Marcotullio and then looking up. He here spotted Sullinger near the basket and delivered a long pass, and Cobb went for the steal and missed the pick and Sullinger collected the ball and put in a leaner over the outstretched arm of Hearn at 3.1. "He had three reads," Buck coach Thad Matta would later say of his point. "I'm glad he chose option number one. That's what it was."

     

    "We were trying to contain Craft on the way up, but we didn't do a good enough job. He got going a little too quickly," said Carmody, and so now it was his 'Cats who had to move quickly, it was Shurna who had to move quickly, and here he offered his shot and time stood still and the ball hit the front of the rim and the buzzer sounded and Shurna's head fell in disappointment. "I thought it had a chance," he would later say. "Sullinger kind of came in at the last second. But I put it up there and hoped for the best. That's about all you can do."

     

    Now all he and Crawford could do was commiserate, and for long seconds they stood in front of their bench either talking softly or lost in their thoughts. Then, together, they sat down on the bench, and here Shurna dropped his head and covered it with his hands and simply stared at the floor. He, like all the 'Cats, had battled bravely this evening. But his last shot had been short, just short, and that left him with only one feeling.

     

    "Just disappointment," he would sadly say. "It's a tough way to go out."