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."