NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski
previews Northwestern's game against Illinois at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Sunday.
* Point Dave
Sobolewski took to cyberspace shortly after the 'Cats inspired performance
Wednesday night at Ohio State. "Essentially, no matter who's healthy, we'll
play with whoever we've got," he said when asked just what it was he tweeted.
And why did he
feel he had to send out that message?
"I know what
people are thinking," he said. "We're going to fold with all these injuries,
just like they thought when Drew (Crawford) got hurt. That's not the case.
We'll be OK. We'll keep fighting, keep defending, keep playing hard. We're not
going to back down. No matter who we've got, no matter who's healthy, who's
hurt, we're going to continue to play 'til the final buzzer of the last game of
* Pick any of the
familiar analogies. The wounded animal. The cornered prey. The disparaged
performer who gets no respect. Each of those images now befits the battered
'Cats. Yet even after their loss to the Buckeyes, and even with streaking
Illinois set to visit Welsh-Ryan on Sunday, there is about them that sense of
defiance reflected in Sobolewski's tweet. Yes. They may not have Crawford,
their senior leader. And, yes again. They may not have Jared Swopshire, who was
playing at an inspired level when he blew out his knee at Iowa. And, yes a
third time. They may not have seven of the players on their original roster of
Still, says guard
Reggie Hearn, "We're playing like a team that has nothing to lose. We've had so
many injuries, everybody knows that, but we still have a lot of fight left in
us. I think ever since Drew went down, it took us a couple games to find our
rhythm, but we found it and now--even with Swop going out, which was a big
blow--I think we have our team identity.
resilient team. Like I said, we've had these injuries. But we're not going to
use that as an excuse. I just think, overall, we have the intangibles of heart
and hustle. That's something you've got to have in this game, and that's
something we'll continue to bring to the table every night. We're not going to
give up. We're going to continue to work hard and push through any adversity
and do everything we can to make this a good season."
* 'Cat coach Bill
Carmody is not given to histrionics or florid speeches. "I have a low pulse
rate. I'm pretty calm about it. You go with what you're given. That's what you
do," he will say when asked about his feelings during this injury-ravaged
season. But later, when asked about Sobolewski's tweet and that attitude of
defiance we sense in his team, he recalled his message to it before it faced
"I told them,
'OK, you're not expected to win going to Ohio State. People think you're going
to get crushed,'" he said here. "I said, 'Look, all the coaching staff has
played a lot of basketball. All you guys have. You've all been in games in the
playground, in the park, in high school, AAU, where you've been underdogs. Not
quite David and Goliath. But no way. And you win. So what's different about
this?' So I said, 'You gotta compete. That's all there is to it. You play hard.
You have ability. That's all you've got to do. Compete. Then see where it ends
up after 40 minutes.'"
* True freshman
Kale Abrahamson competed against the Buckeyes and nicked them for 13 points in
his 34 minutes of work. Redshirt freshman Tre Demps also competed against them
and finished with 16 points in 32 minutes. In a perfect world, a world full of
healthy 'Cats, neither would have seen that much time. So one other point
Carmody made a day after that game is worth noting as well. "These guys were
recruited," he reminded here. "Even though we played three freshmen in the
starting lineup, they were recruited to play. Now they're getting their chance
and I think they played well."
* The 'Cats, a
month ago, played better than well when they defeated the Illini down in
Champaign. They defended with purpose. They drained open shots. They built an
early lead and controlled the game to the end. Illinois is playing at a higher
level than it was back then. Still, if the 'Cats hope to sweep their in-state
rival, they must again follow that formula. They must defend with purpose,
drain their open shots and control the game's tempo with their offense.
* Illinois is
averaging eight three-point field goals a game, second best in the Big Ten. The
'Cats are averaging 7.8, third best. That is another Xs-and-Os area to watch on
* Carmody says
center Alex Olah, who missed the Ohio State game after suffering a concussion
at Iowa, "Doesn't have a headache and is feeling better." But he was not
certain if he would be cleared to play against the Illini.
in the end, the playbook and healthy bodies are peripheral issues with these
'Cats. For now, with them, the bottom line is their intransigence, their
refusal to buckle under all the adversity that has befallen them. "We've really
made it a priority to come together and, through the adversity, to continue to
play as hard as we can and come out each night and give it our all," says
Sobolewski, who shall get the last word here. "(The Ohio State game) obviously
didn't end up the way we would have liked. But we fought. We fought hard."
Special Contributor Skip Myslenski previews Northwestern's Valentine's Day date
with Ohio State on Thursday in Columbus.
* He is still
just a true freshman. But 'Cat forward Kale Abrahamson nailed it when he said
this before their Wednesday practice. "It feel likes Survivor around here," he
said. "I said that when we lost Drew (Crawford) too. But someone's getting
thrown off the island daily, I guess. We need to get in the cold tub, do
something. I don't know what the solution is. But we've got to keep fighting."
(Abrahamson's home state) isn't like one of those islands in the Pacific, is
it?," Bill Carmody said when appraised of that comment, and then he chuckled
ruefully. "I don't know. This is the way it is. You just have to keep going. I
said this last week. I haven't gotten any sympathy cards from other coaches."
* Sympathy Cards.
Get Well Cards. Even one of those cheesy cards showing a cat clinging to a limb
with the exhortation, "Hang In There." Any and/or all of them now befit the
'Cats, who travel to Ohio State for a Thursday night meeting with the No. 13 Buckeyes
as embattled as that victim in a country song who has lost his wife, his job,
his dog, his cat, his rifles, his car and all his friends. Their latest losses
are forward Jared Swopshire, who underwent season-ending knee surgery on
Tuesday, and center Alex Olah, who is out indefinitely while recovering from a
concussion. That means, after starting this season with 16 players on their
roster, they will appear in Columbus with a cast of nine, only seven of them
scholarship. "(Losing) seven guys in a year is kind of crazy," junior guard
James Montgomery III said Wednesday.
"It was tough for
me to see that happen to a guy like Swop. He's an amazing guy on and off the
court," said senior guard Reggie Hearn. "Then, after thinking about what
happened to him, I got to thinking about everything that's happened to the team
this year. It's a little bit disheartening, of course, but we've got to keep
moving on and come out and play hard tomorrow. We know what we're up against.
So all we can do is go out and play. There's really not much to be said other
* The 'Cats will
open play on Thursday with a starting lineup of Hearn, point Dave Sobolewski,
guard Tre Demps, center Mike Turner and Abrahamson. For those of you without a
program, they are (in order) a senior, a sophomore, a redshirt freshman, a
redshirt freshman and a true freshman. On the bench, fit to spell them, will be
the senior Alex Marcotullio, who is playing hurt (balky back); Montgomery, a
walk-on who has totaled 43+ minutes and 11 points this season; junior forward
Nikola Cerina, who is also playing hurt (the balky ankle he sprained back in
mid-November); and sophomore guard Omar Jimenez, another walk-on who has
totaled 28 minutes and one point this season. "Hopefully," said Hearn, "we're done
with injuries for the year. I don't know how much more we can take."
* It turns out
that, on the road, Montgomery rooms with Hearn, himself a former walk on who
has blossomed into one of the 'Cats steadiest performers. "To be honest, I see
a lot of myself in James, kind of a similar story and everything, and I think
he has a chance to help us out a lot," he would say Wednesday. "We've always
talked. Even when he isn't expecting to play, he's asking questions. So he's
ready and I think we'll see him contribute a lot tomorrow."
And how about a
scouting report on him?
foremost, it's got to start on defense," said Hearn. "He's a great defender. He
has great foot speed. I think he'll help us out a lot in that area. He's also
probably the fastest guy on the team, so you might see him get a few back door
cuts, things like that. Really, just all around, he's solid."
"He knows what
he's doing," Carmody would echo when asked the same question. "He's a pretty
athletic kid. He can run, he can jump, he's a pretty disciplined guy.
Basically, he's been the scorer on the scout team this year. He can get shots
off, and he enjoys getting shots off, you know. But now you go from a white
shirt to a purple shirt, and we'll see what happens. But he's ready to go."
* A Montgomery
primer: Was recruited out of Santa Monica High School by UC-San Diego and a
handful of mid-majors. But, he said Wednesday, "I wanted to play in one of the
Big Six conferences and I wanted a really, really good education.". . . Was a
practice player for the 'Cats women's basketball team as a freshman. Spotted
then by former assistant Mitch Henderson, now the Princeton head coach, who
recommended him to Carmody. Carmody, in turn, checked on him with Joe McKeown,
his women's counterpart. "He said he was pretty good," he would remember. . .
Asked Wednesday if Hearn was his inspiration, Montgomery said, "For me
personally, yeah, a little bit. I learn a lot from him and he makes you realize
what's possible. Just because I'm a walk-on doesn't mean I can't do what
everybody else can do.". . . Asked what words-of-wisdom Hearn might have
offered him, he said, "He told me I need to bring energy from the bench, and
rebound. With Swop and Alex out, we lost a lot of rebounds. So if I can do
that, that would really help the team.". . . Asked finally if his goal was to
emulate Hearn and earn a scholarship, he said, "Most definitely. Anyway I can
pay for my tuition, that's my goal. But I'm here because I love basketball.
Freshman year, I wasn't on the team and it was rough for me. So I'm much
happier just being on the team."
* And finally,
Carmody: "We've all been on teams, coaches and players, where it didn't look
too good and you said, 'Oh, my Lord.' Then you beat somebody you're not
supposed to beat. I think that's the attitude we have to have."
By Skip Myslenski
NUsports.com Special Contributor
National Girls & Women in Sports Day was Wednesday, Feb. 6, but Northwestern will celebrate this special event on Sunday, Feb. 10, prior to the NU women's basketball game vs. Ohio State. NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski takes a look back at how opportunities for women in sports have grown over the years, speaking with NU head women's basketball coach Joe McKeown, a 20+-year coaching veteran, former NU women's basketball All-American Anucha Browne and NU senior shortstop Emily Allard.
He was now back in Philadelphia, his hometown, and looking for work, any kind of work coaching basketball. This was the summer of 1980 and here he heard that over in New Jersey, over there across the bridge in the small town of Pemberton, both the men's and the women's job were vacant at a two-year school called Burlington County College. So he applied and an interview was arranged, but when he arrived for it this is what he heard. "We already filled the men's job," he heard. "Do you want the women's job?"
"Sure," said Joe McKeown, now the head coach of the 'Cat Women.
He smiles out from a chair in his office as he relates this tale, and that smile remains rooted there as he recalls this very different time. "We had five players," he is saying now. "We had a tryout. I don't think they had won a game the year before. So I was pulling people out of the hallways, saying, 'Hey, come play for us.' We had six players. But I had a girl in the middle of the season elope, get married. So we were down to five. I remember finishing games with three players. Players would foul out, we would run triangle-and-none defenses, box-and-none defenses. We won six or seven games, had a lot of fun.
"I remember in practice, I would practice with them. We didn't have anybody else. We didn't have enough people to practice. We would play three-on-three all the time, or two-on-two, or run five-on-zero. Our biggest player was probably 5-foot-9. We'd have kids double-dribble all the time. We'd tell the refs before games, 'Don't call that today. Don't call double-dribbles. We didn't mean it.'"
So the skill set of today compared to then?
"The skill set today, the training that goes into it, the strength-and-conditioning, the treatment they get, the scholarship money-- I remember that team, we didn't have a budget. My salary was, I think, $400. The lady, I said, 'What's our budget?' She said, 'Your salary.' So we'd stop at diners around Philly and New Jersey, or go to McDonald's. If I had 20 bucks in my pocket, we'd feed the whole team. If I had 15, we'd stick with the dollar menu. That's how it was."
In the fall of 1981, as McKeown prepared for his second season at Burlington, Anucha Browne began her freshman year at Northwestern. She had grown up in Brooklyn and, while in elementary school, had lost herself in figure skating. But she had sprouted to 5-foot-10 in the ninth grade and so then, at that borough's St. Saviour High School, she turned her attention to basketball and track.
No, she recalls now, she was never criticized or ostracized for her involvement in sports, and then she explains why. St. Saviour was an all-girls school and at them, she goes on, "Girls are empowered to be who they are, to have confidence in their abilities, to have confidence in their talents. It was the best place I could be."
Here she pauses, chuckles and then she goes on, "Being tall is probably what made me most uncomfortable. But when you become an athlete, you're surrounded by other athletes. You're comfortable with each other. You're comfortable being powerful. You're comfortable sweating. All of that helped, being in a positive environment relative to playing sports."
It helped too that her mother, a former player herself, had supported and encouraged her participation, and that as a runner she was tutored by a man named Fred Thompson. He, in those days, was a legendary figure, a practicing attorney who espoused women participating in track; who founded and financed Brooklyn's famed Atoms Track Club; who produced Olympic medalists at that club; and who, finally, helped coach the U.S. women's track team at the 1988 Games in Seoul. "I do realize it was a lot different experience for other women," she will say now. "But I was always surrounded by strong, confident women."
So she herself was that in that fall of 1981 and now she set off on her remarkable 'Cat career. She would be an All-American as a senior. She would twice be named the Big Ten's Player of the Year. She would set an NCAA record by scoring 30-or-more points in six straight games. She would, not insignificantly, be part of the 'Cat team that earned an invite to the 1982 national championship tourney, the first women's basketball tourney run by the NCAA. (Until then, the governing group was the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.)
This is not insignificant since Anucha Browne is now the Vice-President of Women's Basketball Championships for the NCAA, the caretaker of that tourney that will kick off again come March. "When you talk about (the) 32 years (that have passed), women's basketball has grown by leaps and bounds," she will finally say, speaking from that perspective, and then she offers the numbers that support her claim. At that first tourney, she says, the total attendance for its 19 sessions was a mere 20,000. But at last spring's tourney, she goes on, that number was 200,000.
A decade after the NCAA ran its first Women's Basketball Tournament, Emily Allard was born in the California town of Antioch. She was, from the start, drawn to sports, and at the precocious age of four she was already out on the diamond and playing softball. "I was the tomboy, or one of the boys, or the one who came home with grass stains on her pants, things like that. But I don't think it (her playing sports) was ever frowned upon, and I never let that (what was said) effect me," she remembers. "I just knew in my heart that this was what I was good at, that it was going to take me far, and that I loved doing it. So no one was going to stop me from that no matter what they said."
She was free to dream, then, free to imagine possibilities unavailable to those from generations so-recently past. Women had begun playing full-court basketball just 21 years earlier. (Until then they had played a six-on-six game where three players stayed on one side of the half-court line as defenders and three stayed on the other side as scorers.)
And Title IX, which opened up athletic opportunities for women, had been enacted just 20 years earlier. ("I truly am a product of Title IX," Anucha Browne will declare in our discussion, and then she shares these figures. At the time of its enactment, some 30,000 women were participating in intercollegiate athletics. Now there are 200,000.)
And Ann Meyers had gotten the first athletic scholarship awarded by a Division I school (UCLA) to a woman just 17 years earlier. (The 'Cats now have women on scholarship in 11 different sports.)
And just eight years earlier, at the 1984 Games of Los Angeles, women had finally been considered sturdy enough to compete in the Olympic marathon.
But already all of that was ancient history and so, as her skills grew along with her body, Allard could hold onto her dream, could nurture her dream, could pursue her dream freed from many of the prejudices and handicaps confronted by her predecessors. There was, we wonder, never a discouraging word? "That's very true. I was very fortunate," says Allard, a senior, star and shortstop on the 'Cat softball team. "I think people understood the work I put in, and the potential I had, whether it was in athletics or in the classroom, and they just wanted to do anything they could to help me get where I was headed.
"I do not come from a wealthy family. But my parents found the means necessary to get me where I needed to go, especially when I got older and started playing travel ball and that college scholarship was looming. I think they knew that I would ultimately save them hundreds of thousands of dollars by forking over $1,500 so I could play on the best travel team that I could. I think those sacrifices just made me appreciate what I had so much more, and in the end it really worked out. They haven't had to pay a penny and that's opened numerous doors for our family."
Last Wednesday, for the 27th time, National Girls and Women in Sports Day was celebrated. On Sunday afternoon, before the 'Cat Women face Ohio State at Welsh-Ryan Arena, that occasion will be observed at an event featuring ESPN's Sarah Spain, who will give its keynote address and lead a roundtable discussion. "People my age and in my generation have a lot to pay back to the people who came before us, especially the women who came before us," Allard will say during our talk.
"I don't think we really understand what others had to go through and I think days like this, where they're honoring women and girls in sports, is kind of eye-opening for my generation. I don't want to say I'm oblivious to it. But I will never truly understand what other women did to pave the road to today."
Today is surely not a perfect world for women in sports. It is, in fact, not a perfect world for anyone. Yet the road traveled by female athletes is long enough to stretch back to the Ancient Olympics, which are idealized even though women could not compete in them and married women could not even attend them. (If they did and were caught, they were thrown to their death off Mount Typaeum). Women were banned too when the Modern Games began in 1896 and they were not allowed to compete in track-and-field events until 1928; but that year, at the conclusion of the 800 meters, a number of competitors collapsed, controversy arose and they would not again run that far at an Olympics until the 1960 Games in Rome. Twelve years later, in Munich, they were finally considered strong enough to compete in the 1,500 meters, and then 12 more years would pass before the United State's Joan Benoit won the first marathon gold medal awarded to a woman.
McKeown, in turn, was on a road of his own, driving his Burlington team to games in one of the school's minivans ("You just hoped you didn't run out of gas," he remembers), then driving again in the late '80s after he took over New Mexico State in his first head job. This time he would navigate a 15-passenger Econoline van, guiding it the 275 miles from Las Cruces to Tucson for a game with Arizona; then guiding it the 126 miles from Tucson to Glendale for a game with Arizona State; finally guiding it the 400 miles from Glendale back to Las Cruces and home. (Utah, Brigham Young, Wyoming and Colorado State were also on the team's schedule; on those occasions, they would fly to Salt Lake City, rent three minivans, drive to the various outposts and, he recalls, "Hope you didn't crash in the snow.")
"We went undefeated and our motto was, 'We're going to Sizzler.' We went to Sizzler, for eight bucks you could feed everybody," he also says of those days, thinking back to one of his teams. But already, in his sport, a corner had been turned, and leading the advance were names of renown. Meyers, a four-time All-American at UCLA, had signed a contract and gotten a tryout with the Indiana Pacers in 1979. Cheryl Miller, a USC All-American and the sister of Pacer guard Reggie, had led the U.S. women to a gold medal at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Lynette Woodard, a former Kansas All-American, had become the first woman to play for the Harlem Globetrotters in 1985 and, a year later, Nancy Lieberman had become the first woman to play in a man's pro league when she joined the USBL's Springfield Fame.
"I think those pioneers like Ann Meyers, Cheryl Miller, they had personalities. They understood how to get things done," McKeown says, thinking of those driving forces. "They didn't say, 'You have to give us.' That's what helped grow women's sports too. Not just making demands. You needed to know how to talk to people, how to deal with people, and I think a lot of coaches in our game in the '80s started to get better at that too. That really helped us."
The Scribbler, some 42 years ago, was a young Sports Illustrated reporter assigned to do a story on a female distance runner at UCLA. He does not remember her name. But he does remember she told him this. She told him that her sorority sisters demanded that she use the back door when she returned from her runs; if she didn't, if she came in all sweaty through the front door, she would embarrass them in front of their dates.
"Wow. Oh, wow. I can't imagine that," Emily Allard will say when that perspective is offered up to her. "That's hard. It's got to be hard. Especially when it's part of who you are. Man. I don't know. I don't know what I would have done. I've never faced anything like that."
Allard, in fact, faces a far different reality, a reality that not only accepts a woman who sweats and strains and comes home with grass-stained knees. It can also, on occasion, view those pursuits as assets, which in her case was proven just last summer.
She had to make a choice back then, a choice between accepting an invite to the U.S. national team tryouts and taking the internship she had been offered in the marketing department of Wilson Sporting Goods. "That was really big for me. It was something outside of sports, furthering my career," she says of the latter, and more was at work here as well.
"I also had a couple nagging injuries, I guess you could say, and it was a decision to be ready for next season or play on the national team. My commitment has always been here to Northwestern and it was something I had to do for myself and my team and my health, not my own glory. . . I never imagined turning down an invitation to play for my country. But it was something that had to be done. . . At the time, it was a very hard decision for me to make. But I think it was the right one."
The internship, we wonder now, does she think her involvement in sports helped her land that job?
"Yes," she says flatly. "Being an athlete, especially in softball, it helped me be more relevant to their company. That's what they are, a sporting goods company, especially for baseball and softball. So it all kind of fell into place and it was the most-incredible experience of my summer."
"Women are now celebrated for being involved in sports. . .and they've shown to be better leaders and more effective effective in the workplace because of their team experiences," Browne will say days later. She offers this coincidentally, without prompt, with no knowledge of Allard's experience, and here she continues, "Companies very regularly reach out to universities and ask if they can point out graduating, high-potential student-athletes. They realize they have the core leadership skills needed at their companies."
Joe McKeown is again smiling. He and his 'Cat Women now travel to away games on either chartered busses or planes, and his players' skills and experiences are as far removed from what he confronted at Burlington as their uniforms are from the floor-length dresses worn by the first women to play basketball. They now enter their sport at the earliest of ages, hone their talents with diligence and passion, and--when the time arrives--are recruited as assiduously as any of their male counterparts. Their roster is now complete enough to hold spirited practices, their productions are now mottled only rarely by double-dribbling, and now they eat not at a McDonald's or a Sizzler, but at a training table or a fine hotel restaurant.
But, we wonder, does Joe McKeown ever think back to those old days, back to those days of cheap eats and endless van rides, and this is when he offers up that last, final smile. Then, eyes twinkling, he says, "Everyday. Everyday, everyday, everyday. And especially when we're on a charter flight coming back from Ohio State or wherever."
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski offers
a look back at the Northwestern men's basketball team's convincing 75-60
victory over Purdue on Saturday.
delivered a three just 17 seconds in and then, 45 seconds later, Reggie Hearn
hit a foul line jumper. Next up was Alex Olah, who dropped in a short hook from
the left block, and now it was Hearn with a deep three from the left wing and
Sobolewski with a backdoor layup off a Tre Demps' assist. Not even four minutes
had passed here in the 'Cats Saturday matinee with Purdue, but already they
were up 12-0 and on their way to a 15-point win.
Saturday, out at Nebraska, Reggie Hearn struggled through a nightmare, ending
that game with just six points while going two-of-11 overall and missing all
five of his three-point attempts. Four days later, at Michigan, he was little
better, going two-of-eight overall and one-of-three on his threes while
collecting only seven points. Yet, as he prepared to meet the 'Cats, those poor
performances meant little to the Boilermaker coach Matt Painter. "We told our
guys, 'He can make shots,'" he would say after his team's defeat.
"We treated him
as a big-time shooter. It might not have looked that way. But we treated him
and Sobolewski as the two guys you don't want to leave and (let) shoot a rhythm
shot. But whether it was a pin down off an out-of-bounds play, or whether it
was a transition shot, or whether it was a piece of their offense, he (Hearn)
was getting into a rhythm. You just can't allow that."
On the dais now
are Bill Carmody and, to his left, Hearn and Sobolewski. "I've been hard on him
for awhile now," the 'Cat coach is saying of the former. "I just told him to
relax. You know. I told him I'd never say you were a walk-on again (which Hearn
was at the start of his career). But I had to mention it yesterday, two days
ago. I said, 'This should be the best time of your life. You're here, you're at
a Big Ten school, you're getting a Northwestern degree, but you look sad.
What're doing? Just go out there and play. You don't even have to listen to me.
Just do what you do. That's good enough.' He did that today"--and here Carmody,
the comedian, paused for a beat--"The not listening part."
chuckles from his listeners and a broad grin from Hearn, and now Carmody
continued, "See that smile. It's important. He's a thoughtful guy. Sometimes
smart guys think a little too much and you've just got to go out there and do
what you've worked hard at for a long time."
And why wasn't he
"I couldn't tell
you," said Hearn himself. "Maybe I was pressing a little bit. There were times
where I felt the last couple of games I wasn't finding my role in the offense
and things like that. Like coach said, maybe I was just thinking a little bit
too much. But today, I just kind of stayed within the offense and released it
when I had my open shot."
Through all of
Saturday's first half, both Hearn and that 'Cat offense were resplendent. They
delivered an array of threes, and they converted backdoor layups, and they
simply eviscerated a Boilermaker defense that found itself trapped in a
revolving door. "I've always said this about Northwestern," Painter would later
say. "If you can't defend them, it's like you have a flashing light on top of
your head when you're out there playing. They just pick on you. At times in the
past, we'd hide one guy who had that flashing light. But when you've got four
or five guys out there with flashing lights, that's a difficult thing."
"We played well.
The shots went in," said Carmody. "But they were good shots, shots that we
practice off our offense. We knew their center would play off our center. So we
really worked the last few days on taking one or two dribble pull-ups. We made
a few of them. Like I said, we executed very well. There wasn't any tension on
offense, that's how I would think about it. Guys weren't, 'What do I do?' There
was a nice flow to it."
That flow would
continue through all of this one's first 20 minutes and, when they ended, this
was the result. Hearn had 21 points while going nine-of-10 overall and
three-of-four on his threes, and the 'Cats had a 14-point lead after shooting
68 percent overall (17-of-25) and 66.7 percent on their threes (eight-of-12).
"I don't know that my shot ever felt that good for an entire half," Hearn would
later say, thinking back to his performance here.
"But, from the
get go, I think coach mentioned, we knew their centers would drop off on the
ball screens. So we were practicing that pull-up jumper the last couple
practices. I got my first one to go in, my second one to go in, and after that
you kind of get in a groove. It's really good to see your first shot go in.
That really helped get me going."
return to earth in the second half, tacking on just five more points, and that
was true too of the 'Cat offense, whose shooting cooled off considerably. They
would also be battered on the boards through the final 20 minutes, getting
out-rebounded by 15, but here is why their lead never dipped below a dozen. They
were tougher than a Boiler program that prides itself on that quality, they
were more disciplined than a Boiler program that is built on that virtue, and
they were unflustered when the Boilers even hinted at making a run.
first with their lead at 21 and after an 80-second stretch that bordered the
surreal. It went, in simplest terms, like this: A Boiler miss, a Boiler
offensive rebound, a Boiler miss, a Boiler offensive rebound, a Boiler three
while 'Cat Alex Marcotullio was getting called for a foul under the basket.
That gave the ball back to Purdue and now came a Boiler miss, a Boiler
offensive rebound, a Boiler layup with the chance for a conventional
three-point play, a Boiler offensive rebound off the missed foul shot, a Boiler
miss, a Boiler offensive rebound, a Boiler miss, a Boiler offensive rebound, a
Boiler miss, a Boiler offensive rebound, a Boiler layup, a missed layup by Olah
and a Boiler layup that cut their deficit to 12.
Right here, with
a little over 11 minutes remaining, the 'Cats were on their heels and looking
endangered. But now, off a media timeout, Jared Swopshire calmly dropped a
three from the right wing to steady them, and then it was Swopshire again some
five minutes later. This time the 'Cats were in a lengthy scoring drought, and
this time the Boilers had come back to within 14, and this time he hit a three
from the left wing to bury any thoughts they had of a late rally. "We couldn't
get stops to go with our runs," Painter would later lament, and then--not unimportantly--he
"With all that I
said before, obviously you talk about your own team, I thought Northwestern was
great. Bill's done a great job. They were clicking on all cylinders today from
an offensive standpoint. He didn't even have to go to his 1-3-1 defensively. I
want to give those guys credit. They played a good game."
observations manifest well enough just how well that offense clicked this day.
Hearn, Swopshire, Sobolewski and Demps all finished in double figures and Olah
ended with nine. Then, even more significantly, the 'Cats had 24 assists on
their 26 field goals. "That makes you feel good as a staff that guys are
sharing the ball and doing the right things," Carmody would say of that last
stat. "Everybody seemed to be on the same page on both offense and defense."
we have numbers like that, it's great for us," Sobolewski finally said. "It
means we're flowing from one part of our offense to the next, that we're
flowing through things quickly. I think we did a good job today scoring in the
last 15 seconds of the shot clock. The last couple of games, when we got down
to 15, we were kind of stagnant and weren't getting good shots. But today we
stayed in our stuff and scored a lot of points as the shot clock was winding
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski takes
a look at the development of freshman center Alex Olah as the Wildcats get set
to host Purdue on Saturday.
We are discussing
Alex Olah, the seven-foot freshman center who often does not play that tall.
"He doesn't dunk the ball. What?" yelps 'Cat coach Bill Carmody. "'Well, I try
to outthink.' 'Outthink? You're 275 pounds. You're seven-feet tall. Don't worry
about outthinking anybody.' You know. I just think it's habits. He doesn't have
the habits and that's what we're trying to instill."
learning--he's very strong and really big and has a really high IQ--but he's
still learning how to actually use his body. That's the whole point for him,"
adds Ivan Vujic, the 'Cat assistant who works with their big men. "He doesn't
know how strong he is and what he can do with this type of frame."
in the first half of the 'Cats loss at Michigan, Alex Olah played timidly. But
then, while scoring six of their first eight points in the second half, he went
on the attack. "He was very aggressive, especially on our pick-and-rolls. He
was rolling to the basket hard," remembers the forward Jared Swopshire. "He's a
big guy. So when he goes to the basket hard, he's going to score or get fouled
every time. That's something the coaches have been working on with him, and
he's been doing a great job making improvements in that area. I know what he
can do. I go up against him each day in practice. When he's aggressive, he
makes the team better."
Why is it hard
for him to be continually aggressive?
"He's coming out
of high school. He didn't have to do that in high school. He's bigger than
everybody. Now you get on the college level and everybody's just as big,
they're stronger, so you consistently have to be aggressive like that. It's
just getting used to doing it."
So it's a
a mindset. It's getting that aggressive mindset that I'm going to do this every
time, even when I'm tired."
"Go hard to the
basket! Go hard! Go hard!" That is what we hear 'Cat assistant Fred Hill bark
at Olah as he runs him through post drills. But then, in games, we watch as he
ignores that dictum, eschews a drive to the basket, and either passes or offers
up a baby hook. "I don't know. DNA," Carmody will say when asked why it is hard
for his center to maintain his aggression. "He's a kid who hasn't been exposed
to this kind of competition. He was here for two years at a little Christian
school. The competition was horrible. They had only five good guys on his team,
so practices weren't anything. So here he has to learn to come everyday. It's
all new to him. But I'm seeing improvement in his work, in practices and stuff.
But to tell you exactly what makes one guy have an edge and another guy look
like he's a smoothy, it's hard to tell."
So the learning
curve has been steep for Alex Olah all through this basketball season. For he
had grown up in Europe (Romania), where the game is slower and more nuanced and
much less physical than here, and had played in the States for a tiny Indiana
school called Traders Point Christian Academy, where his mere size allowed
him to dominate easily. It was not natural for him, then, to jostle and brawl
and sacrifice his body, which are all bare necessities for survival in the Big
"In high school,"
even he admits, "I didn't have much competition against centers. But in
Romanian and European championships, I met players that are taller and bigger
than me. That kind of gave me an idea of how the Big Ten was going to be. But
here the centers are more physical, and stronger and more athletic."
And what's been
the hardest adjustment for him?
physicality. When I came to the States I was 230 pounds. Now I'm almost 280, so
I think I'm making progress. But, yeah, the physicality is the most important
part over here. I just have to compete hard and work hard everyday and do extra
working hard, the kid," Carmody will later say. "In the mornings, he's working
on his foul shooting. He's working on rolling and catching it and dunking it,
all sorts of things around the basket. He's going to get better. He's watching
tape. He's becoming a student of the game, is what I would say. So we just keep
working him. We keep going and going and going, and I know he's going to
chance to show improvement comes Saturday at Welsh-Ryan, where he will be
matched up against the Purdue freshman
center A.J. Hammons. Their numbers are disparate. Olah is averaging just six
points and four rebounds a game; the seven-foot Hammons, coming off a 30-point
night against Indiana, is averaging 10.7 points and 6.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks
per-game. But, Vujic will finally say of his charge, "In practice, he's shown
big improvement. Now can he translate it from practice to the game?
are coaches. But what's really going on not only in his head, but in everyone's
head, is a big question mark. But I know he cares and he wants to get better.
He realizes now he's got to figure it out. We tell him what he needs to do. But
eventually he's going to have to deliver and do it on his own."
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski takes
a look ahead to the Northwestern men's basketball team's contest at top-ranked
Michigan on Wednesday.
We're Number One...
THAT WOULD be
Michigan, whom the 'Cats visit Wednesday night. "We should obviously get up for
every game in this league with all the notoriety of the league," said point
Dave Sobolewski. "But, yeah, playing the number one team in the nation'll be a
lot of fun and it's a great opportunity for us."
"Sure. It's great," said his coach, Bill
Carmody. "But I hate to say, 'This (is an) opportunity.' It seems like
everybody we play, it's like it's an opportunity. It's not just Michigan.
You're going to play Indiana or Ohio State or Michigan State. Those are all
opportunities. I think we just have to take care of ourselves. How are we going
to score? How are we going to put the ball in the basket? I think that's really
important. It can't be just one guy. We have to get contributions, four guys in
double figures for it to work."
finished in double figures the night of Jan. 17 when the 'Cats won at Illinois.
Three guys finished in double figures and another finished with nine points
three days later when they narrowly fell to Indiana. Just three guys finished
in double figures three nights after that when they upset Minnesota, who had
only one player reach that mark, and last Saturday only two guys finished in
double figures when they lost at Nebraska, where they played their poorest game
in three weeks. "I'd say it's a little bit frustrating, but we've got to keep
our heads level," Sobolewski said of that unexpected defeat. "We all know, with
such a long season, there's going to be a lot of ups-and-downs. So we've got to
keep level heads and bounce back and be ready to play."
REGGIE HEARN, the
senior guard and the 'Cats leading scorer, will certainly be looking to bounce
back from his performance in Lincoln, where he finished with only four points
while missing all five of his three-point attempts and going just two-of-11
overall. "They said he wasn't feeling too good," reported Carmody. "That was
evident, if that was true. I never saw him play like that, to tell you the
truth. I just hope it's an aberration."
Did he have the
flu, something like that?
"I don't know. He didn't say anything to me.
See. He throws up before a lot of games. I'm talking to the team and he's in there
doing his thing, and he's had some great games. But this one, I think he wasn't
feeling well, which I didn't know about until after the game."
THEIR FIRST GAME
with Michigan was the last time the 'Cats had performed as poorly as they did
against the Huskers. In that one, back on Jan. 3 at Welsh-Ryan, they quickly
fell behind by 16, never threatened and eventually lost by 28.
AFTER THAT GAME,
not insignificantly, Carmody altered the 'Cats approach. Now they would look to
succeed behind a lockdown defense and a patient offense that bled the clock and
so limited the opponents' touches. It was no surprise, then, that Sobolewski
said this when asked how they would approach Michigan this time around. "We
need to contest every shot," he said. "We really need to start well, especially
on the road, and play as good a defense as we can and try to tempo the game
with our offense."
"It's very hard to beat them going
up-and-down. They'll wear you out if you do that," echoed Carmody. "So we
definitely have to try and control things as good as we can. But it comes down
to everything. You have to make shots. Ohio State beat them, they came out
early just on fire. I think you need that kind of start if you're going to beat
THE 'CATS, you
may recall, came out on fire at Illinois and that propelled them to their upset
ALEX OLAH, you
may not recall, corralled four rebounds that night against the Illini. But
since then the 7-foot center has gotten just one against Indiana, one against
Minnesota and three against the Huskers. His sub, the 6-foot-8 Mike Turner, has
been even more invisible over that stretch, getting no rebounds against the
Hoosiers, one against the Gophs and one against Nebraska. Combined, then, that
pair has grabbed just seven rebounds over three games in which the 6-foot-1
Sobolewski has gotten a dozen and the 6-foot-8 Jared Swopshire has gotten 32.
This is why we
wondered if Carmody has thought of going small. "Yeah. Yeah, I have," he said.
the 6-foot-3 senior guard, has occasionally played center on offense already
this season. He could do that again if Carmody does go small, and so could
Hearn. "Those guys know what to do," the coach said. Then, on defense, the
opponent's big man would be shadowed by Swopshire. "Definitely. If that's what
coach needs me to do, I can definitely do that," the forward said.
A WILD CARD
exists here and it is redshirt junior Nikola Cerina, the 6-foot-9, 245-pound
transfer from TCU. He has played little since badly spraining his right ankle
against Fairleigh Dickinson. But on that night back in mid-November he gave a
glimpse of his promise by scoring five points and grabbing seven rebounds in
just 10 minutes of work. "He can definitely help us, especially down low in the
post," Swopshire said of him. "He's the strongest guy on this team, hands down.
Hands down. So we can definitely use him."
So why hasn't
Carmody used him?
"I just want him to play well in practice.
Practice, practice, practice," he said. "I want him to play well in practice,
then he can get in there. Clearly we can use him. But he's got to be ready to
perform, and all I have to go on is how you play in practice."
And how has he
played in practice?
"OK. Just OK. He shows some signs. Maybe you
can put him in there for 10, 12 minutes and see what happens. That's not
usually my style...but you can tell, just with that body, that he could be
useful. He certainly could be useful for us, so I probably have to get him in
CERINA, who is
listed as 6-foot-9, admitted that he is closer to 6-7. He also said, "I still
feel consequences of the injury. I still have trouble sprinting and playing for
long periods of time. Another thing is my physical conditioning. I'm a little
bit out of shape."
There radiates from him that kind of toughness the 'Cats could surely use, and
there is in him a willingness to give it a shot. "I talked to my trainer," he
finally said here. "He said you might not feel 100 percent until June. So it's
day-to-day now. We'll see. I'm able to play right now. I still have pain. But I
can push through it. That's no problem."
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski looks
back on the second win over a ranked opponent in a seven-day span for the
Northwestern men's basketball team which defeated No. 12/14 Minnesota on
afternoon, even after his team fell to then-No. 2 Indiana, 'Cat coach Bill
Carmody declared that it was making progress, that it was forming an identity,
that it was learning how it must play to win. Late Wednesday evening, after it
had upset No. 12 Minnesota, we wondered just how that was. "It starts with our
defense. Our defense has really been able to generate offense for us," said the
forward Jared Swopshire. "Then offensively, playing at the pace we want to play
Hearn, who was sitting next to him, now echoed those thoughts, but then--not
insignificantly--he added this. "It's overall being a scrappy team that doesn't
go away, a team that other teams don't want to play," he added.
Moments later it
was Gopher coach Tubby Smith who was behind the microphone and, when was asked
about that scrappiness, his blunt answer not only sharply defined the
difference between the two teams that had just faced off. It also described the
foundation of the upset the 'Cats had so recently authored. "They always play
hard. They're going to go after you. They're going to scratch and claw and be
physical," he began. "If you're not careful, they'll get you out of your game.
"Then you start
complaining. That doesn't help anything. There's no excuses. But we have a
tendency to take ourselves out of the game with our attitude. 'They're hitting
me.' 'We're being pushed.'. . . You start complaining about something. Maybe
somebody didn't do something. When you're losing, people point the finger.
That's the way it starts. Instead of, it's my fault, you look at the ref, you
look at the coach, someone's not doing something. That's what losers do."
The 'Cats, even
in defeat, have never looked like losers. Their offense may have struggled.
Their shots may have failed to fall. Their roster may have been depleted by
injury. Even their effort may have wavered on occasion. But always they have
remained a cohesive whole, a virtue that was much displayed on this evening
when any number of them took star turns.
Swopshire, a bit player when he was at Louisville. He kept them in the game
early with his shooting, continually jousted with the taller Gophs on the board
and ended his 39 minutes of work with 16 points and eight rebounds and a pair
of steals. "You know, he was a role player at Louisville and a good one,"
Carmody would later say of him. "So it's been hard for him-- from day one we've
been telling him to be aggressive. You have to do more here. He can dribble, he
can pass, he shoots, rebounds. But you can't just be one of the guys. You have
to be a little more than that. I think he's recognizing that. I think he's
playing batter and better because he's recognizing what's expected of him
Has that been a
hard adjustment, we wondered.
"It hasn't been
that tough," said Swopshire, a small smile decorating his face. "I wasn't a
role player before college, so it's kind of getting back to old habits, I
There was Hearn,
who ended with 13 points and five rebounds and two steals and a block, and the
point Dave Sobolewski, who not only finished with five points and five rebounds
and five assists and two steals. He also finished with no turnovers in his 37
minutes of choreography. There was the guard Tre Demps, who chipped in 10
points and buried a monster three during the run that won this one for the
'Cats, and there was the guard Alex Marcotullio, who not only made half of his
four three-point attempts. He also picked up three steals while catalyzing the
1-3-1 zone that so baffled the Gophs. "Al has always been great at the top,"
Hearn would say of him.
creating havoc and getting steals and getting his hands on balls, which led to
some fast break points for us tonight. As you guys know, that isn't really our
forte. But it was big for us tonight and Alex was the spark that made the 1-3-1
There were some
glaring anomalies on the stat sheet handed out after this game. The Gophs had
20 offensive rebounds to only 10 by the 'Cats, which looks fatal. Yet the 'Cats
ended with 12 second-chance points to only 10 by the Gophs. The Gophs also
ended with eight blocks, which would indicate the 'Cats could do no work inside.
Yet they ended with 20 points in the paint, the same as the Gophs. The 'Cats
also survived despite some horrendous foul shooting (they finished just
17-of-32 from the line) and succeeded despite making only four of their dozen
three-point attempts (they entered averaging 8.1 makes on 21.7 attempts).
But then there
were these numbers that hinted at the reasons for their success. They had nine
steals. They turned the Gophs over 15 times. They held the Gophs to 33.3
percent shooting overall and 26.3 percent on their threes. And they allowed the
Gophs not a single, fast-break point. As Swopshire would say, "It starts with
The 'Cats trailed
by seven with 15 minutes remaining. But now, in quick order, Swopshire dropped
in an eight-footer after grabbing an offensive rebound, the Gophs missed a
three, Marcotullio made a three and the 'Cats rolled out their 1-3-1. "It
helped us a lot. It forced some turnovers, and I think that sort of made them a
little flat-footed," Carmody would later say.
"I think they
were frustrated with the 1-3-1," said Hearn. "They couldn't seem to figure it
out and they resorted to trying to beat us up on the boards, like they'd done
in the first half. But thanks to Swop, we didn't allow that in the second
"They do a good
job in their 1-3-1," said Smith. "It's just, I'm disappointed we didn't get
better. We didn't play very smart."
His Gophs didn't
play smart, and the 'Cats played like Mensa members, and now--with the 'Cats
down five with 13 minutes remaining--this is what occurred. A steal by
Swopshire that led to no points. A steal by Marcotullio that led to a Hearn
layup off a Sobolewski feed. Another steal by Marcotullio that led to another
Hearn layup and a foul shot off another Sobolewski feed that tied the game at
37. A Goph dunk behind the zone. A missed three by Swosphire. A Goph turnover.
A Marcotullio three that put the 'Cats up one, a score that wouldn't change for
two minutes. A Demps' three off a cross-court pass from Sobolweski as the shot
clock neared zero. A missed Goph jumper. A pair of free throws by Demps.
That is what
occurred in just under seven minutes and, when this interlude ended, these were
the numbers. The 'Cats had turned the Gophs over four times. The 'Cats had held
the Gophs to one-of-six shooting. The 'Cats had outscored the Gophs, 13-2. The
'Cats had gone from five down to six up.
The Gophs would
linger through this game's last six minutes. But never again would their
deficit be less than four. The 'Cats would continue to struggle at the line.
But never would they lose that cohesiveness that has defined them this season.
The Gophs would never exhibit any cohesiveness this night, which Smith alluded
to again while explicating the work of the zone that undid his team. "We played
from sideline to sideline instead of attacking the basket," he disconsolately
said here. "They did a good job of making us pass around them, and they were
aggressive on the ball. I think that's what makes them so effective, they
really get in those passing lanes. If you're not patient; or if you're throwing
up quick shots, which we did; or if you turn it over, which we did, it's going
to lead to easy baskets. It's real demoralizing when you turn the ball over."
the 'Cats, that (to quote Hearn) scrappy team that doesn't go away, was never
demoralized, which Carmody made clear when he finally said this. "That zone
made the difference, all right," he finally said. "We got out and we just felt
confident that we could stop them, and that helps our offense all the time."
Northwestern battled back against second-ranked
Indiana in the second half on Sunday but came up a little short in the end.
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski takes a look back.
The 'Cats have
finally found a rhythm, and now they are down only five, and that playpen
called Welsh-Ryan is alive and jumping and crackling with electricity. An upset
is suddenly a real possibility, an upset of No. 2 Indiana, and here they set up
in their 1-3-1 zone, which finds the 6-foot-1 point Dave Sobolewski under the
basket. He is there now as Hoosier Cody Zeller makes his move and begins his
drive, there as the center offers up a layup, there on the ground after the
seven-footer barrels into him and sends him sprawling.
referee Ed Hightower blows his whistle.
The 'Cats knew
exactly what was required of them entering their Sunday matinee with the powerful Hoosiers. They had to
control the game's tempo and they did, regularly bleeding the shot clock to the
end. They had to limit their turnovers and they did, finishing with only a
half-dozen. They had to keep Indiana from running and they did, surrendering
only three fast-break points. They had to quell Indiana's explosive offense and
they did, holding it to a mere 67 points (18.4 below its season average). They
had to trust their own offense and they did, rarely straying from it to go off
on individual forays.
But to reach this
moment when Hightower's whistle blew, to reach crucial moment when they were
down only five with 6:20 remaining, they had been forced to climb a
steeply-pitched mountain. They missed shots early, that was the reason, missed
countless open shots through all of this game's first half. Jared Swopshire
missed an open three just over three minutes in and then missed another a mere
32 seconds later. Sobolewski missed one more three some two minutes after that
and on it went to half's end, which found the 'Cats seven-of-23 overall (30.4
percent), one-of-nine on threes (11.1 percent) and down 14 (31-17).
As Sobolewski and
Zeller collect themselves and rise from the floor, Hightower makes his call.
The Hoosier got his shot off before he collided with the point and so his
basket is good. But he also did charge on the play and so the 'Cats will get a
pair of free throws. "I really couldn't tell. But the officials, I really
didn't have a problem with them," 'Cat coach Bill Carmody will say when asked
about that call.
But was it a big
"Yeah. Very big."
"I think it was
the right call," says Sobolewski himself. "He got the ball off before I stepped
in there for the charge. So the call was fine."
The call also
changes the momentum of the game for here is what happens now. Sobolewski makes
one of his two free throws and the Hoosiers, after a miss late in the shot
clock, get an offensive tip from Zeller to go up eight. Then Sobolewski misses
a jumper from the foul line and, at 4:52, the Hoosiers go up 11 when Victor
Oladipo buries a three from the left wing.
Zeller, the All-American,
bedeviled the 'Cats throughout this afternoon. He scored 21 points while their
centers, Alex Olah and Mike Turner, combined for only four. He grabbed 13
rebounds while that pair got but one. ("That's scary. They played 35 minutes
and got one rebound. That's not acceptable," Carmody said of that reality.)
Then, just as importantly, he ignored his 'Cat counterpart when he got the ball
away from basket, stayed home to patrol the middle and defend the rim, and so
prevented the 'Cats from turning to the backdoor layup when their outside
shooting was so frigid.
"You have to take
that away," Hoosier coach Tom Crean would later say of his team's defensive
ploy. "They're not going to be in the midrange much. Today, they actually did
get some midrange shots. I don't know how he coaches. I know what their results
are and how they get their baskets and you never see them taking a lot of
midrange shots. It's the cuts, it's the back cuts, it's the drives to the rim,
it's the threes. We did a pretty good job on that."
did a good job of that in the first half, but early in the second Sobolewski
dropped the three that signaled the 'Cats were frigid no longer. They would go
five-of-10 from that distance in these 20 minutes, make enough from that
distance to linger in the Hoosiers' shadow, and then finally--down 13 with 9:52
remaining--they caught a wave and rode it up to their heels.
Reggie Hearn, a a
force and presence all game, began this journey with a pair of free throws and
then Swopshire, revitalized, dropped a three from the left side. Now Zeller
missed a dunk, and Olah converted a layup off a pass from Hearn, and Hearn made
a free throw, and the 'Cats were down only five when Hightower blew his
Hearn, his 'Cats
suddenly down 11 after that momentum-shifting whistle, steadies them with a
jumper from just beyond the foul line and then, after a Hoosier basket, he
draws a foul while taking a tough three. He drops all three of his free throws
to cut their margin to eight at 3:24 and here, after a Zeller turnover,
Swopshire hits a three from deep in the right corner and that margin is five at
2:31. Now Zeller makes a pair of free throws and Swopshire gets a backdoor
layup off an Olah pass, Hoosier Jordan Hulls makes a tough runner and, at 1:17,
Sobolewski offers up a three that can pull the 'Cats to within four. It looks sure,
it looks true, it looks good. But it is long, and it caroms out off the back
rim, and the Hoosiers grab the rebound, and the 'Cats start to foul, and the
Hoosiers preserve their eight-point win by going seven-of-eight from the line.
"I think we had a
chance there, a couple shots," Carmody will later lament. "Sobo had a nice one.
I think we were down six (seven, actually) and he had a nice little three there
that could have gotten us there (to within four). Then you don't know if they
make foul shots. There wasn't quite enough pressure on them to see if they'd
make them if they had to make them."
There is, in the
cruel-and-real world of Big Ten basketball, no such thing as a moral victory.
But this day was not a total loss for the 'Cats. "If we defend, we'll be OK,"
Sobolewski would explain when asked what they could take away from this game.
"If we defend, our offense will figure itself out. We'll be OK on that end."
think," Carmody would finally say, "we're starting to get some kind of
identity, who we are, how we play, how we're going to play to win. That's what
every team has to do. It seems to me we're making some steps. They may be
incremental in some ways, but I don't think so. I think we're getting better."
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski looks
ahead to the Northwestern men's basketball team's home game against
second-ranked Indiana at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Sunday.
What is past is prologue.
claimed that in The Tempest, and now the 'Cats must prove him correct if they
are to take down No. 2 Indiana in their Sunday matinee at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
* TO EXPLICATE,
let us look at the week just past. A Sunday ago, in a late afternoon game at
Welsh-Ryan, the 'Cats appeared generally disconcerted, shot 29.4 percent
overall and 19.2 percent on their threes, and fell to lowly Iowa by 20. But
four days later, in the hostile environment of Illinois' Assembly Hall, they
appeared profoundly proficient, shot 47.2 percent overall and 53.3 percent on
their threes, and ran away to a 14-point win over the No. 23 Illini.
their effort and execution and efficiency were hugely different in those two
affairs, which we wondered about when we sat down with point Dave Sobolewski on
Friday afternoon. "We just came out ready to play and knew we were going to win
the game on the defensive end," he said, referring to the Illini triumph. "if
Illinois was going to score 70 or 80 points, we had no chance of winning. So we
made that a big focus of ours, to try and take them out of what they do and and
to make sure we kept them out of their tendencies. We did a great job of that
early on. We took them out of their game plan."
How can you
guarantee that same effort is there every game, we now asked.
"It's just a
focus issue, I think," he said. "Against Iowa, I don't think everybody prepared
mentally the way we need to. But leading up to the Illinois game, we had some
great practices, a lot better than the practices entering Iowa. So we need
another two good practices here and then everybody needs to understand what we
need to do to win, like we did last night."
As a team leader,
we now asked, is it his job to make sure everybody does understand?
"A little bit.
But I think it falls on everybody. Everybody's got to find their own ways to
mentally prepare to play a game. It's not the same for every person. It's
different for me than everybody else. So i think that falls on everybody
individually to find whatever way it is to get ready to play a game. They just
have to care of their business."
"I think every
single guy, something has to come from within himself," senior guard Reggie
Hearn echoed when we later asked him that final question. "But as far as me
being a leader, I have to provide that example. That's something I did not do
well in the Iowa game, and who knows? It might have had an effect on some of
the younger guys. Me not coming to play may have adversely effected them also.
So I have to make sure I'm bringing 100 percent to each and every game.
Hopefully that will filter down to some of the younger guys."
PREPAREDNESS is certainly part of any formula for success. For a team that is
not ready to play has no chance for a victory. But there was also a very
concrete, pragmatic difference between the 'Cats performances against the
Hawkeyes and the Illini, and it can be simply described this way. In the former
game, they bled the shot clock, effectively paniced, got out of their offense,
and ended up taking either rushed shots or bad shots. In the latter game, they
bled the shot clock, retained their composure, kept running their offense, and
ended up getting either open threes or backdoor layups. (The numbers reflect
their efficiency in Champaign. For of their 68 points, 24 came on threes, 26
came at the line and 16 came in the paint. That accounts for all of them but
"We started every
possession (against Illinois) with a little five-to-eight second delay to make
them play some extra defense," Sobolewski would explain. "After that, we were
just playing our normal game. That was part of our game plan and we executed it
So might we see
the same plan against the Hoosiers?
"I think so,"
said 'Cat coach Bill Carmody. "I just have to get across to our guys, we scored
68 points away from home last night. That's OK. You win games getting 68
points. So even if you're taking a little time, we were taking time against
Iowa, but with 15 seconds left we broke down and didn't continue to run our
offense. Then we sort of went one-on-one or ball screens, and it wasn't
effective. So we're just trying to get across to them, you can score late in
the clock with the stuff you're running. Stick with it."
Is that why they
got more layups than usual against Illinois?
"I think we just,
you know, it's hard to say," Carmody said. "But I think we had a plan going
into the game, let's stick to it, let's not alter things midway through the
shot clock. Let's stick with it and see where it goes. We had some early
success, then we said, 'Oh, this stuff might work.'"
SWOPSHIRE, the grad student transfer from Louisville, must be mentioned here,
and this is why. In the 'Cats 11 wins this season, he has shot 48.8 percent
overall, 44.1 percent on his threes and averaged 11.9 points. (Against
Illinois, those numbers were 57.1, 66.2 and 12.) But in their seven losses, he
has shot 30 percent overall, 15.8 percent on his threes and averaged just 4.6
points. (Against Iowa, those numbers were 16.6, 00.0 and two.) Obviously, then,
he is an integral part of their offense, which is different from his days down
South, where he was nothing more than the ultimate role player. "No doubt,"
Carmody said when we asked if that was a big adjustment for the forward.
"I've talked to
him a lot about that, and that was one of the reasons he came here even. He
identified us as a place where he could do some more stuff instead of just
stand in the corner and dribble, dribble, dribble. If he got the ball, someone
passed it to him reluctantly. Here, I want you to score, I want you to rebound,
I want you to handle the ball. So it has been a big adjustment for him. But I
think he's got it now."
THEN, the 'Cats hope their Illinois past is the prologue to the performance
they put on Sunday against Indiana. For that is the way they can pull off their
upset, by controlling the tempo and caring for the ball and playing gnarly
defense and operating with a cool efficiency. "We know they're a very dangerous
team, offensively and defensively," Hearn will say. "So we're going to have to
be disciplined, limit our turnovers and maintain the tempo of the game that we
want to have. We're going to have to keep trying to impose our will with the
tempo. . .and maintaining the pace of the game is about limiting their
possessions. If we limit their possessions, we have a pretty good chance."
think it's going to be very similar to the Illinois game in that we're going to
win the game ultimately on the defensive end," Sobolewski will finally say. "We
can't let them go crazy. We've got to hold their guys under their averages.
They can score a ton of points and so, like Illinois, we've got to keep the
game low, and hope it's close down the stretch, and be able to pull out a win."
WATCH: Gov. Quinn's Proclamation
WATCH: Gator Bowl Celebration Highlights
While in town this morning to announce a $1 million Gigabit Grant to the City of Evanston, Illinois governor Pat Quinn also gave Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald a special proclamation declaring Friday, Jan. 18, "Northwestern Wildcat Football Day" in the state of Illinois.