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    The Spirit of the Season

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    While many Northwestern students spent their quarter break at their homes relaxing and enjoying their time away from studies, junior Kelsey Thompson -- a member of the Wildcats' field hockey team -- was one of 13 NU students who took a 10-day service trip to Nicaragua prior to Christmas through the University's Sheil Catholic Center. The following is a chronicle of Thompson's experience.


    Since I have been back in the States, many family and friends have kindly asked me, "How was your trip to Nicaragua?" I don't know exactly how to put into words what I have seen, though. Amazing? Powerful? Moving? Exciting? Heart-wrenching? There is not one word--or even a page of them--that can truly describe what the 13 students from Northwestern's Sheil Catholic Center felt and experienced on our 10-day service trip.

    After flying into Managua, Nicaragua's capital, we took part in a "mobile food pack," in which one station alone packed roughly 4,800 nutrient-rich meals (called "MannaPacks") for Nicaraguan children in just a few hours. We then drove seven hours on the winding dirt road to the northern mountains (during which we questioned whether we had lost some luggage strapped to the top of our bus), and finally arrived in the village of Cusmapa. The next morning we attended a beautiful, yet simple mass in a Cusmapan home, which consisted of one stucco room under a tin roof. We were struck by the fervor for faith, and the vibrant spirit of love and joy of the people there--something we would experience throughout the week here in Cusmapa. 

    Kelsey Thompson

    In the mornings, our group walked to the Fabretto Center to paint the school buildings. Fabretto, an organization that works to improve education, nourishment, and sustainability for Nicaraguan children, has schools in a handful of Nicaraguan cities, but has a large presence in this small town. Initially, upon seeing the poverty that is the reality of this country, many of us wondered what good we were doing by painting--something we could have done back in Evanston. Painting a school, rather than building a school...it felt so insignificant, so "not enough." But a week's worth of work later, we had all realized we were playing a small role in a much bigger picture. We were contributing to a school that not only educated underprivileged Nicaraguan children, but also provided opportunities for a more sustainable life. The Cusmapan children needed the maintenance of this school, not a new, big, or flashy solution.

    We discovered the importance of this school by getting to know the children who attend it. Every afternoon, after painting, we had the privilege of playing with the children--the Fabretto students currently on Christmas break--who ranged from ages four to 14. By the end of the week, there was not one Northwestern student whose heart was not stolen by these little rascals. We had checked extra bags to bring donated art supplies and sports equipment--including field hockey sticks and balls--to give to the school. On the first day I made friends with a group of kids curious about the funny-looking wooden sticks I was holding. Of course, no one in Cusmapa had heard of "hockey del campo" (field hockey), so I taught them how to hold the stick correctly, and used my broken Spanish to try to explain the bizarre rules of the game. We started out by passing the ball in a circle, and by the next afternoon the kids had gradated to a boys versus girls game of field hockey! They quickly took to the game, demonstrating their understanding of the game when the boys called back a goal because the girls had not properly restarted at the 50 after scoring.

    In addition to playing field hockey, the girls taught me some of their own games, including their variants of tag and "duck duck goose." What struck me more than anything was their simple desire to just be with me; all they wanted to do was hold my hand. I quickly found that, unlike I had previously thought, you can hold six or more hands at once (you only have two hands, you say? psh...)--each of my arms around one girl's shoulders, plus holding two hands with my right, and two with my left...plus anyone who just grabs onto an arm! My girls, Dariella, Virginia, Marcia, Daniella, Cynthia, and Dinlora, walked around with me wherever I went. When we weren't playing games, we were walking around connected--physically--by friendship. All that these children wanted was to love and be loved.

    On arts and crafts day we quickly learned that these students were not interested in coloring or drawing pictures for themselves. Instead they all wrote my name--or the name of another NU student--on the paper and gave it to us "so we would always remember them." Even children I did not know would write my name (spelled "Calsi" as they thought it sounded) on their pictures and give it to me simply because I was sitting near them. And this Cusmapan spirit of giving did not stop here.

    As we walked into the Fabretto center on our last day in Cusmapa, we were nearly attacked by the enthusiastic children. Cynthia ran up to me and shoved a black plastic bag into my hands yelling, "Para ti! Para ti!" (For you! For you!). I opened the bag and found three beautiful, juicy mandarins. I looked at her, wondering how this malnourished child who truly has nothing, would give me her food so willingly. I shook my head, and tried to give it back, but grinning ear to ear she insisted that I take the gift. I could tell by her wide, excited eyes how much she wanted me to have this, and was so happy just to give it to me.

    Then there was my buddy, Nidel. A curious little athlete, interested in this new game of field hockey, Nidel befriended me on the first day. I quickly found out that he was a natural at my beloved sport, and shared my love and joy of the game. This, in conjunction with his constant sarcasm and joking, made us fast friends. Every day thereafter, Nidel, came to paint with me in the mornings, helping us get the job done, climbing on the windows to get the hard-to-reach places. He made the work easy for me, as I was always laughing when he was around. I taught him several variations of the fist bump, or "pound it" handshake, all of which we would run through every time we saw each other.

    Our last afternoon with the kids, Nidel kept telling me that he had a Toy Story coloring book for me, and later he would bring it by our house (Fabretto's volunteer house). That evening I looked outside, hoping to see Nidel or the book he was supposed to leave for me, but to no avail. The next morning we packed up early and drove to the Fabretto Center to drop off the last load of donated equipment. As we got off the bus, I saw a boy walking up the drive, and I knew it was Nidel. As I knelt down to meet him, from under his sweatshirt he pulled out the Toy Story coloring book he had promised. I smiled and thanked him as we did our usual fist bumps one last time. He asked me when I was coming back, to which I sadly told him I hoped next year. He told me he had to go, so I hugged him and said goodbye. As we walked away, I opened the book to find, "Friendship for always, Kelsey and Nidel - friends," written in Spanish on the inside cover. Through tears, I paged through the book, reminded of the joy and love the children gave to me this week.

    Kelsey Thompson
    (Photo by Mark Olalde)



    Purple Pride Abounds in Jacksonville

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    WATCH: Postcard from Jacksonville #6 | Gator Bowl Press Conference (Free)

    On the eve of a New Year and of the 2013 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Northwestern and its tremendous fan base enjoyed a busy day in Jacksonville.


    * Monday morning presented the Wildcats with their first opportunity to step inside the site of their Gator Bowl competition and the home of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, EverBank Field. The north end zone in the 67,164-seat stadium already was filled with Northwestern purple, complete with the distinctive 'Northwestern stripe' featured in both Ryan Field end zones.

    NU donned their home purple jerseys and filed into the stands for a team picture, an annual tradition at each bowl destination. In what might be considered a break from tradition, however, the 'Cats announced Monday that they will sport special matte black helmets when they take the field tomorrow, similar to those worn twice during the regular season but with a new twist:


    * Following the quick trip to the stadium, most Wildcats returned to the hotel while seniors Brian Mulroe, Brian Arnfelt and David Nwabuisi joined head coach Pat Fitzgerald for the final Gator Bowl press conference. The quartet fielded questions from Chicago, Mississippi State and Jacksonville media, reflecting on their season, experiences this week and the significance of a potential win on New Year's Day.


    * The last public item on the agenda for the squad was the Coaches Luncheon at Jacksonville's Prime Osborn Convention Center, a chance to bring together both teams and their supporters to celebrate their seasons and selections to the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl. Northwestern's standout left tackle and two-time first-team Capital One Academic All-American Patrick Ward was honored by the bowl as a Scholar-Athlete Award recipient, while former Gator Bowl participants and longtime contributors to the sport of football Don Orr (referee) and Corky Rogers (high school football coaching legend) were inducted into the Gator Bowl Hall of Fame.

    As he has been known to do, Coach Fitzgerald fired up the crowd with his address to the group, giving special recognition to the wives of the Northwestern coaching staff for all they do to support the success of their husbands and the program at large.


    * As temperatures climbed into the upper 60's under sunny Jacksonville skies, Northwestern fans took to the streets in droves to watch the Gator Bowl parade. The route began at EverBank Field and covered the nearly three miles to the popular Jacksonville Landing location. The Northwestern University Marching Band made its first appearance of the week and rallied the NU faithful.

    Check back later today for more photos and tweets as well as a recap of the upcoming pep rally at Jacksonville Landing! Go 'Cats!

    Wildcats Take Timeout For a Good Cause

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    Two days before its TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl showdown against Mississippi State, several members of the Northwestern football team and spirit squad made time to make a difference in the Jacksonville community.

    Following a morning practice, the Wildcats and their counterparts from Starkville paid a visit to the Wolfson Children's Hospital in downtown Jacksonville to bring some excitement and holiday cheer to young people enduring a difficult time. It was obvious by the end of the 90-minute visit that both the 'Cats and the patients at Wolfson were greatly affected by their positive interactions.

    Representing the Wildcats were: WR Drew Moulton, SB Evan Watkins, LB Roderick Goodlow, OL Shane Mertz, P/PK Matt Micucci and DL Ifeadi Odenigbo.

     

    In each room, the Wildcats and spirit squad members managed to find a connection with the youngsters, chatting with them about their favorite sports and teams they root for, video games they play, foods they like to eat and other activities that make them smile. And of course, sometimes there is little need for conversation when a young person is taking in the presence of an imposing 6-foot-8 offensive lineman for the first time.

    * New Year's Eve Day will be a busy one for the Wildcats and Northwestern fans alike, with a slew of items on the agenda from morning till night. To kick it off, the entire team will head to EverBank Field for the first time in order to snap a team photo in the venue, home of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars. After that, Pat Fitzgerald and his team captains meet the media for the final time before kickoff and then join the rest of the team at the Coaches Luncheon and Gator Bowl Hall of Fame induction.

    The afternoon slate features a lengthy parade featuring marching bands and spirit squad members from both schools as well as a Northwestern-only pep rally at the Jacksonville Landing. While many in the city and around the world will be staying up late to ring in the New Year, the Wildcats will be enduring their usual "Friday" routine of meetings, movies and final pre-game preparations.

    BLOG: 'Cats Cut Loose at Latitude 30

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    Latitude 30 Photo Gallery

    WATCH:Postcard from Jacksonville 12/27 | D. Nwabuisi Post-practice Interview | Q. Williams Post-practice Interview

    Pat Fitzgerald's Northwestern teams have gained a reputation for putting on a good show in each of their postseason bowl game destinations and, after Thursday night in Jacksonville, that reputation may soon extend to the pre-game festivities as much as to what goes on between the white lines.

    The Wildcats took advantage of the hospitality offered by Latitude 30, an entertainment complex in Jacksonville offering bowling, arcade games, food and, as the 'Cats found out, a karaoke stage. After a quick meal, the Wildcats grabbed the mike and didn't let go for the duration of their two-hour stay at the facility, offering impressive renditions of everything from Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" to Justin Timberlake's "Gone" to Boyz II Men's "End of the Road" and even some "Sexual Healing" as performed by running back Tyris Jones. After building a strong audience at Latitude 30 over the course of the 15-plus songs they performed, the 'Cats finished strong by showing off their dance moves to "Put a Ring On It" and "Gangnam Style" before leaving the stage to a standing ovation.

    Check out the accompanying video and photo gallery (yes, visual evidence!) to get a taste of what the Wildcats brought to Jacksonville Thursday night.

    Also, special shoutout to senior defensive lineman Bo Cisek, who went where no Northwestern student-athlete has gone before by live-tweeting the event from @NU_Sports, the official Twitter handle of the Northwestern Athletics department. Bo did a great job capturing the energy of the evening. If you enjoyed his witticisms, give him a follow on his personal account, @DaDoze55.

    * Friday Practice Notes

    * Northwestern staged its second practice on site at Jacksonville University Friday, going full pads for the final time before next Tuesday's TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl against Mississippi State.

    * In attendance Friday was former Northwestern men's tennis great and World No. 4-ranked, Todd Martin. A native of Hinsdale, Ill., Martin reached the finals of the 1994 Australian Open as well as the 1999 U.S. Open and now resides in Florida.

    * Following practice, the entire Northwestern squad made the short trip to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, enjoying a beach picnic, volleyball and bags competitions, and a chance to rest under the sunny Florida skies. Temperatures today crept into the upper 60's -- a welcome setting considering the Northwestern campus in Evanston received its first significant snowfall of the winter over the last few days. Can't wait for all the Wildcats faithful to join the fun in sunny Jacksonville!

    The Gator Bowl, Local Perspective

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    WATCH: Postcard from Jacksonville Dec. 27

    Coach Fitz Post-practice Interview | K. Colter Post-practice Interview


    Our football team just wrapped up its first Bowl Week practice session down in Jacksonville and we have officially been on the ground in Gator Bowl country for more than 24 hours. So far the committee and our hosts have been tremendously welcoming and we've picked up a few bits of knowledge that we'd like to pass along to you in this blog!

    If you don't follow us on Twitter (@NU_Sports), do so! Tonight, we will be turning over the handle to one of our student-athletes as the team visits Latitude 30, which features activities like bowling, billiards and arcade games. Should be a fun night for the team!

    The B1GCats Have Arrived in Jacksonville!

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    Northwestern Football's official travel party left Evanston early Wednesday morning, Dec. 26, to travel to Jacksonville, Fla., for the official start of Gator Bowl Week. In each of the days leading up to the New Year's Day Gator Bowl, we'll have blogs in this space updating you on all of the activities our team and staff are enjoying.

    In addition, check out our new Gator Bowl Facebook Tab, now available on our page at Facebook.com/NorthwesternAthletics. In this tab, we will have an updated video from each day down in Jacksonville as well as a regularly updated "Photo of the Day" and the ability to read our most recent Gator Bowl blog entry. Keep up with the #B1GCats conversation on Twitter from Facebook, as well, with an embedded #B1GCats twitter feed.

    The Morning After - Brown

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    NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski takes a look back at Northwestern's 63-42 victory over Brown on Sunday to close out the Wildcats' nonconference portion of their schedule.

    FIRST, AN UPDATE: Senior guard Reggie Hearn, the 'Cats leading scorer who twisted his ankle during their Friday night loss to Stanford, sat out their Sunday win over Brown. "But I'm sure he'll be back. Friday, we'll be back for practice and they seem to think he'll be OK," Bill Carmody said after that 21-point victory.

     

    COLOR THEM RUST, NOT BROWN: The Bears were coming off exams and playing their first game in 15 days. "That's not easy. You've got to acknowledge that," said Carmody, but it certainly made the 'Cats task easier. They hit five-or-their-first six three-point attempts as their opponents reoriented themselves to competition, and led 15-0 with just over four minutes gone. From here that lead would never be less than eight and would once swell to as much as 33.

     

    THE STOPPER: Brown guard Matt Sullivan, a Loyola Academy grad, entered this affair averaging 15.7 points-per-game, the best in the Ivy League. But at Welsh-Ryan he could never escape 'Cat forward Jared Swopshire, who attended him as ardently as a mom does her new-born babe. Sullivan, as a result, missed his first six shots; got his only basket of the day on a back-door layup at 8:22 of the second half; and then fouled out with just those two points a little over a minute later.

     

    Swopshire's work here represented the work of the entire 'Cat defense, which held Brown to just 30.6 percent shooting overall, to 28.6 percent shooting on its threes and to 21.5 points below its season average. "I thought, overall, our defense was pretty good," Carmody later said. "It seemed every 10 minutes they got 10 points. You win a lot of games if you do that."

     

    REASON TO BELIEVE: The 'Cat offense, this season, has occasionally sputtered and appeared out-of-sorts. But Sunday, even without Hearn and (of course) Drew Crawford, it often hummed, which is why it ended with 48.9 percent shooting overall, with 54.2 percent shooting on threes, and with 21 assists on 23 field goals. It produced only one double-figure scorer, point Dave Sobolewski, who ended with 14. But, not insignificantly,  Tre Demps and Kale Abrahamson and Alex Marcotullio each finished with nine, and Swopshire and Alex Olah each finished with eight. "I thought we ran through our stuff nicely and our shots went in, our shots went in," Carmody said of his offense at one point. "Usually that happens. Nobody was breaking plays, they were executing like they do in practice. That was good to see."

     

    At another point, not insignificantly, he also said, "I think we actually learned a lot tonight, I really do. If you execute--you've still got to make the shots on offense--but if you execute, you're going to get the kind of looks we think we can make."

     

    HE LEARNED: Sobolewski missed all six of his field goal attempts last Friday against Stanford and, on Sunday, he also missed the three he took in the first half. He finally dropped a three from the right wing at 17:43 of the second and, in that half, he would go five-of-six and collect all of his team-high points. "Sobo, he's had a rough time," Carmody later said of his performance. "I think I told him in one of the time outs, he's a bulldog, So-bo-lew-ski. He's a hard guy, drops his shoulder, puts his elbow out on anybody. I told him he has to be a little bit more like a French poodle, but not quite that. Shooting off the bounce. If there's space, shoot it. You have to be a threat. Just don't go in there and hope for the best. He hit some big shots out there today. I think that's going to help his whole game."

     

    "I know what he's saying," Sobolewski himself would say. "I don't always have to be, like he said, a bulldog trying to get into the lane and finish with a foul sometimes. Maybe it's a floater, maybe it's a pull-up, a little 10-to-15 foot pull-up. I agree. If I could add that part into my game, I think that would be a big help."

     

    THEY MUST LEARN: At one point in the second half the five 'Cats on the court were the sophomore Sobolewski; the redshirt freshmen Demps and Mike Turner; and the true freshmen Abrahamson and Sanjay Lumpkin. There was a reason for that. This was the 'Cats final game before Big Ten play, and Carmody was looking to feed his youngsters that experience they will need in the withering conference battles to come. "Everyday you're teaching. Everyday you're teaching because you've got new guys," Carmody said of working with a group that now has only three players experienced in his system (Marcotullio, Sobolewski and Hearn).

     

    "So everyday I'm on Kale's tail. 'You've got to do better. You've got to do better.' You want them to play, all right? We have good freshmen, I think, very talented young guys. We played the other night against Stanford and that kid from Bishop Gorman, 6-8, Rosco (Allen), he was one of the most-highly recruited guys in the country. But he's not quite there yet, some nights you don't notice him. That's what happens with freshmen. It takes time, all right. It takes time. But the more playing time they get in games, in different kinds of games, the better they're going to be."

     

    "Everyday is more-and-more experience for them, which gets us better and better," Sobolewski would later add. "Everyday in practice, I think some of these freshmen need to learn we get on them because they need to start picking it up. They're doing a great job of it. But the more we tell them what they're doing wrong, the more they'll learn. There's definitely still room for improvement. At this time last year, I had a lot of room for improvement in terms of knowing the offense. As coach said, we just have to get better with it, and all this experience they're getting now is huge for us. We see it everyday. They're starting to pick more things up and starting to make better reads on the court, so I think they're coming along well."

     

    And just how far as he come, Abrahamson was now asked.

     

    "A long way," he said with a smile. "You should have seen me the first day of summer school. I was getting beat back door. I was messing up every second. Pretty much the whole summer, I didn't really improve. But at this point it's gotten a lot better and it's the same with everybody. I can see steps each day."

     

    SO, IN THE END, THIS WAS A LEARNING EXPERIENCE: "It's huge. It's huge to not only get the win, but to come out and play well," Sobolewski would finally say when asked the significance of this win. "It was tough not having Reggie out there. Regardless of the opponent, he wasn't ready to go. We think, we're pretty sure we'll have him back for January. But it was great coming out and playing well. As coach said, I think we learned a lot today. We communicated the best we have all year on defense in terms of talking out there, switching when we needed to switch, fighting over screens when we needed to do that. So especially on the defensive end, we learned what it takes to shut people down."

    The Morning After - Stanford

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    Despite a close loss to Stanford on Friday night, NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski writes that the Wildcats got some much-needed contributions from a pair of players off the bench.


    Every team needs a performer like Tre Demps, who can create a shot in a time of need. The modern game demands that now, as did the 'Cats Friday night game with Stanford, and so it was no surprise that the ball found its way to his hands as this one rushed toward its conclusion. The 'Cats were now down two and less than 10 seconds remained and here he drove from the right side into a thicket of bodies. "We were trying to penetrate, have a couple good shooters in, Sobo (Dave Sobolewski) and Jared (Swopshire), to get in the lane a little bit and then find (either Demps or Alex Marcotullio)," Bill Carmody would later say. "But they handled that pretty well. Then Tre found an opening."

     

    "I just tried to get in the lane and penetrate, maybe to find somebody," explained Demps himself. "But I knew things were getting kind of mixed up a little bit, and I knew the handoff was coming my way. I saw the switch, and I knew I could get by (Cardinal defender) Dwight Powell."

     

     

    ******

     

     

    Every team needs a performer like Alex Marcotullio, who can provide leadership and that proverbial spark popping off the bench. The unpredictable flow of games demands that now, as did the 'Cats Friday night game with Stanford, and so it was no surprise what occurred when he entered that fray at 7:23 of the first half and his team switched into its 1-3-1 zone. He is the head of that defense, the one who plays up top, and in that role, says he, "I'm just trying to take them out of their comfort zone. That's my job at the top, to get the start of their offense off-balance and just to create a little havoc out there."

     

    Until this moment at Welsh-Ryan Arena, the only thing off-balance in this game had been the 'Cats themselves. They had led it 2-0 just 23 seconds in, but then went down one 13 seconds later and now slowly, inexorably, slipped into a hole deeper than space. There was little hop to their step, there was little amp in their energy, and their offense was best symbolized by what occurred on the plays just before and just after Marcotullio entered here. First, far out on the court, Mike Turner shot a simple pass toward Kale Abrahamson, but Abrahamson cut as the pass was made and the ball ended up in the Cardinal bench. Then, less than a minute later, Turner sent a back-door pass toward Sobolewski, but the point's way was blocked and he aborted his cut and this ball too ended up out of bounds.

     

    That helps explain why the 'Cats had scored just 14 points in this game's first 14 minutes, helps explain why the 'Cats trailed by 18 with under six minutes remaining in the first half. But here, at 5:25 of that half, Marcotullio hit a three from the left side; the defense he headed began to create the desired havoc; and suddenly, unexpectedly, they exploded into an improbable run. "I don't know if our offense got that much better. I think it did," Carmody would later say. "But we certainly got some steals and changed the tempo of the game with our defense. I felt we were running our offense much better. I felt we were settling in the first 10, 12 minutes, trying to do too much too quickly, but after awhile we got some things that we actually work on and they were effective."

     

    "We started to come up with those loose balls and started to score some easy buckets," said Marcotullio himself. "I think that helped our offense flow a little better. We were getting from one thing to the next. We were scoring inside, and now that we were scoring inside, we were getting looks for the three."

     

    Now, just a little over three minutes after his defense and his three started this run, Marcotullio stripped Cardinal Chasson Randle and finished a break with an old-fashioned three, with a layup and a foul shot. Then, after a Cardinal miss, he fed Reggie Hearn and Hearn drove the left baseline and kissed in a reverse layup, and now these were the facts. After scoring just those 14 points in this game's first 14 minutes, the 'Cats had scored 17 in just four. And after allowing Stanford to scorch them for 32 points in this game's first 14 minutes, they had shut them out in those four. And after trailing by 18 at the end of this game's first 14 minutes, they had closed that margin to just one.

     

    A Cardinal three just before the buzzer would leave them down four at the half. Still. Now, finally, the game was afoot.

     

     

    ******

     

    Every team needs a performer like Tre Demps, who can create a shot in a time of need. The modern game demands that now, as did the 'Cats Friday night game with Stanford, and so it was no surprise that his presence was felt when he reentered this fray with 11:20 remaining. "Tre has a knack for getting in the lane and stuff," Carmody would say of him. "He really hasn't played that much, you know, so he's just feeling his way around things. But certainly in the last few games he's played he's done extremely well, and helped us come back."

     

    The 'Cats here were in need of help. Sobolewski, their resilient point, was struggling with his shot, finally ending this affair with just a single point after going 0-of-6 from the field. Swopshire, their versatile forward, was scuffling to get shots, finally ending with six points on only six of them even as he did so much else so well (seven rebounds, five assists and a steal). Then there was Reggie Hearn, who had been a force in the first half, scoring a team-high 14 points and collecting a team-high six rebounds. Just under three minutes into this second half, on a drive to the basket, he collided hard with Randle, came up limping, and exited the game for good 90 seconds later.

     

    Still, when Demps entered it four minutes after that exit, the 'Cats were down only four, and here he threw them onto his shoulders. He hit a short, running hook from the right side and then, after a free throw by Alex Olah, a back door layup off a Swopshire pass. He aired his next two floaters, but then dropped a three from the left side and a runner in the lane to tie this one up at 61 at 6:34. Another three, this one at 1:50, tied it at 67, and when this game finally ended, these were the facts. In its last 11:20, he went five-of-10 from the field and scored all of his dozen points, and the rest of the 'Cats went two-of-six from the field and contributed seven points. "I felt a little rhythm, a little pep in my step," he said later when asked about this outburst. "But I wanted to keep the team in mind. It seemed we were having trouble getting into the lane, and I just wanted to get in the lane and make some plays."

     

    Now, in the lane again and trying to make a play, Tre Demps offered the shot that would push this game into overtime, and for a heartbeat the ball posed there on the rim. "A very good shot," Carmody would call it, but here it fell off the rim and toward a skying Swopshire. He seemed set to corral it, but from behind it was knocked away and into Sobolewski, and then it bounced out-of-bounds to the Cardinal and this one was over.

     

    "Yeah, I thought it might bounce in," Tre Demps would soon say. "I tried to give it a little touch. But it didn't fall."

    Before You Go...

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    Skip Myslenski chats with Kain Colter and Pat Fitzgerald following the team's final practice before dispersing for the holidays. The team will reconvene on the night of Tuesday, Dec. 25.

    * Often, during this season, Pat Fitzgerald and any number of players have talked positively of this team's chemistry, of this team's cohesiveness, of this team's resilience and leadership. Quarterback Kain Colter would do that again Thursday when asked how this bowl experience, his third, differs from his first. "I think this team is a lot different, the dynamic of this team, all the athletes we have, how close we are, how everybody gets along," he said here. "Every year, we've been real close and I feel this year we have the most talented team we've had in a long time. So we're going to keep working on that, keep building on that, and hopefully we'll get this W."

    Making comparisons to the past can be a sensitive matter. But when pressed to specify differences, he did say, "Those guys last year worked their butt off and they wanted it bad, just as bad as this team. But I think the difference between this year's team and last year's team is our confidence level. You look back at this season, we've dominated almost every game, and the games that we lost, we let it slip. So our confidence level is high, that's the biggest thing, so even when we're down, we know we can play better, we know we can play with any team that's on the field that Saturday and strap it up and play well. Like I said, it's our confidence. Guys last year, they wanted it too. But we had a rough season last year, and here we're building and our confidence is up and guys are eager to make plays."

    Wildcats Size Up Bowl Significance

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    He has long dreamt, he said often this season, of playing college football. But not until he viewed the 2006 Rose Bowl did 'Cat true freshman superback Dan Vitale appreciate the special nature of the postseason. That affair matched Texas and quarterback Vince Young against USC and running back Reggie Bush, and even now Vitale will say, "I remember that game perfectly and how it finished up. That's when I got into the whole bowl-season thing as a young kid."

    And now that he is part of a bowl-bound team?

    "It's a cool feeling, seeing that on TV and knowing that I'm there now and, as a true freshman, being able to go to a different state and play in a game like this. It's crazy, especially at this school where we haven't had a bowl win in a while. It's crazy knowing that we get that shot (to end the drought) and I get to be part of that."

    For Dean Lowry, the true defensive end, the postseason epiphany came later, came as he watched the 'Cats do battle with Auburn in the 2010 Outback Bowl. "That's the one that stuck out for me," he remembers. "After that, I was really interested in Northwestern. (I liked) the way they played and the intensity they had, that never-give-up mentality. So that game definitely sticks out for me."

    And now that he is part of a bowl-bound team?