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    Northwestern Hosts In-State Foe Illinois Saturday

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM Luka Mirkovic ranks fifth in Big Ten play with an average of 7.5 rebounds per game.
    Luka Mirkovic ranks fifth in Big Ten play with an average of 7.5 rebounds per game.

    Jan. 22, 2010

    Illinois at Northwestern
    Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010
    Welsh-Ryan Arena (8,117)
    Evanston, Ill. • 7 p.m.
    Big Ten Network (Wayne Larrivee and Jim Jackson)
    Audio: WYLL-AM 1160 and (Dave Eanet and Bob Hildebrand)
    Satellite Radio: Sirius 91 and XM 196
    In-game Twitter updates: @NU_SportsLIVE
    Northwestern Game Notes (PDF)

    EVANSTON, Ill. - Northwestern seeks a split of its season series with Illinois as the teams meet up at Welsh-Ryan Arena Saturday evening. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. with Big Ten Network providing live television coverage.

    The game is a sellout and fans are encouraged to arrive early. Doors to Welsh-Ryan Arena open at 5:30 p.m.

    CTA, Metra, and Pace all provide service to Welsh-Ryan Arena. The CTA Purple Line from downtown Chicago stops at Central Street where you may connect to the #201 CTA bus that stops a block from the arena or walk three blocks west on Central Street to the stadium.

    The Metra Union Pacific North Line from downtown Chicago and Kenosha, Wis., stops at Central Street where you may also connect to the #201 CTA bus that stops a block from the arena or walk three blocks east on Central to the stadium.

    Pace route #213 runs along Green Bay Road and connects with five other Pace routes, and also stops at Central Street.

    Both teams are looking to bounce back from defeats Tuesday night. The Wildcats fell behind early and never could recover in falling 76-56 at 21st-ranked Ohio State. NU dug itself an early 17-3 deficit. Northwestern shot 56 percent (14-25) in the second stanza and got a game-high 22 points from John Shurna, but it wasn't enough. Shurna added five rebounds and four steals in the contest. Meanwhile, Illinois dropped an 84-78 decision at home to No. 13 Purdue.

    Saturday's game features two of the top point guards in the Big Ten. Demetri McCamey leads the league with an average of 6.0 assists per game, while Michael Thompson is fourth at 4.3 per contest.

    Last Meeting: No. 25 Northwestern hit 11 first-half 3-pointers and led 42-33 at the intermission but couldn't hold on in dropping an 89-83 overtime decision at Illinois Dec. 30. The Wildcats tied their own Big Ten record with 47 3-point attempts in the contest. John Shurna paced NU with 27 points.



    Scouting Illinois
    • Illinois (12-7, 4-2 Big Ten) has dropped its last two contests since opening Big Ten play with four consecutive wins. The Illini is coming off an 84-78 home loss to Purdue Tuesday night. Junior guard Demetri McCamey paced Illinois with 28 points and nine assists, while junior forward Mike Davis contributed 17 points and 15 rebounds.
    • McCamey averages a team-high 15.5 points and a conference-best 6.0 assists per game. Davis posts norms of 11.5 points and a Big Ten-leading 9.7 rebounds per contest.
    • Bruce Weber is in his seventh season at the helm at Illinois and his 12th season overall as a collegiate head coach.

    Shurna Takes Charge
    To say that John Shurna has elevated his game this season would be an understatement. After posting norms of 7.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game as a freshman, Shurna has raised those averages to 17.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game in 2009-10. He rank fifth in the Big Ten in scoring and sixth in rebounding. The 9.8 point-per-game boost is the largest increase of any Big Ten player from last season to this season. He scored at least 20 points in five straight games from Dec. 19-Jan. 7, including scoring a career-high 29 points against Central Connecticut State Dec. 22 and again vs. Michigan State Jan. 2.

    Spreading the Wealth
    Northwestern is well known for sharing the basketball while protecting it from the opposition at the same time. That's the case again this season. The Wildcats rank seventh in the nation with a 1.46 assist-to-turnover ratio, having handed out 300 assists while committing only 206 turnovers. In its Dec. 30 overtime contest against Illinois, Northwestern handed out 21 assists while turning the ball over just three times. The three turnovers tied a low in the Carmody era and none of them came over the final 35 minutes of play.

    So Far, So Good
    Northwestern's 13-5 record marks the best 18-game start to a season during the Carmody era and is the best since the 1945-46 campaign. The Wildcats have started 7-1 in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. NU earned five wins in the month of November this season for the first time ever. Northwestern's nine-game win streak which was snapped Dec. 30 at Illinois was its longest since the 1993-94 squad opened its season with nine straight victories. The Wildcats 10 wins prior to the new year tied the 2006-07 team for the school record for most victories before Jan. 1.

    Mirkovic Contributes in the Post
    Despite being held to two points and three rebounds at Ohio State Tuesday, sophomore center Luka Mirkovic has given the Wildcats key contributions as of late. Over the previous four games, the native of Belgrade, Serbia, averaged 10.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists per contest. After posting his second career double-double (11 pts., 11 reb.) in a win over Texas-Pan American Jan. 7, Mirkovic had another solid all-around game in a victory at Michigan Feb. 2, notching 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists. In Big Ten play, Mirkovic ranks fifth in the conference with an average of 7.5 rebounds per game.

    Burning the Boilers
    Northwestern's 72-64 victory over No. 6 Purdue Jan. 16 marked the Wildcats' second victory over a ranked Boilermakers' squad the last two seasons. A year ago, NU ruined 19th-ranked Purdue's Senior Day by posting a 64-61 win. This year's victory marked the highest ranked opponent the Wildcats have beaten since downing No. 4 Michigan State 83-65 Jan. 27, 1979.

    Bombs Away!
    The Wildcats lead the Big Ten and are eighth nationally with an average 9.11 3-point makes per game, while also ranking fifth in the nation with 25.2 3-point attempts per game. Northwestern's 20 3-point makes and 47 3-point attempts in the win over North Carolina A&T Dec. 13 both established new Big Ten records. NU matched the attempts record with 47 against Illinois Dec. 30. The 20 makes bested the previous conference mark of 18 set by Ohio State against LSU Jan. 15, 2005, while the attempt total topped Michigan's total of 42 against Florida Gulf Coast Dec. 22, 2008. The previous school records were 15 makes vs. Arkansas State Dec. 3, 2007 and 36 attempts at Ohio State Feb. 1, 2003.

    Helping Hand
    Northwestern is well known for playing "team" offense and that's reflected in the statistics. The Wildcats have assisted on 73 percent of their field goals this season, posting 300 assists on their 411 made baskets. The percentage ranks first in the nation. In fact, NU has ranked in the top five nationally in assist percentage each of Bill Carmody's 10 seasons as head coach.

    Marathon Man
    There is no questioning Michael Thompson's importance to the Wildcats. Not when you consider that he has played 38 or more minutes in 12 of Northwestern's first 18 contests this season. Thompson leads the Big Ten and is fourth nationally with an average of 38.1 minutes per game. Despite playing as many minutes as he does, the NU floor general has committed either one or no turnovers in nine of the team's 18 games and sports a 2.66 assist-to-turnover ratio. In Big Ten play, he is third in the conference with a 3.33 assist-to-turnover ratio (30 assists, 10 turnovers in 238 minutes played).Northwestern is 11-1 when Thompson scores in double figures and is 2-4 when he doesn't.

    Wildcats Add Austin Nichols to Roster
    Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody has announced the addition of freshman Austin Nichols to the Wildcats' roster as a walk-on. Nicholas, a native of Lansing, Mich., helped guide Lansing Catholic to a Michigan Class B state championship as a junior. A 6-foot guard, he averaged 22 points per game while being named a Class B all-state selection his senior year.

    Up Next...
    Northwestern hits the road twice next week beginning with a contest at Minnesota Tuesday evening. TIp-off is set for 8 p.m.