Physical play wins day for Wildcats

It was bound to be a challenge when Northwestern battled Baylor in Waco. However, the Wildcats came to the arena ready to battle. In a heated game of pushing and shoving, NU came out on top with a 74-70 victory, alleviating itself from the burden of a bad week.

Northwestern's season had seemingly come to an end before it truly started.

Maryland's decisive victory at Welsh-Ryan already had naysayers calling for Bill Carmody's head. Another loss to UIC on Saturday made a big, ugly blemish on NU's March aspirations. The players looked surprisingly flat and uninspired, particularly bad indicators from a senior-laden team. Up next was Baylor—which days ago had beaten formidable Kentucky by double digits on the road—and all signs were pointing painfully downward as the Wildcats landed in Waco.

So if you had told me Northwestern would not only defeat its Big 12 opponent, but hold an 18-point lead midway through the second half, I'd have told you to go teach Luka Mirkovic how to dribble.

Though neither team was spectacular Tuesday night, the Wildcats made a statement with their 74-70 win, addressing many of the problems that have plagued their young season. NU responded impressively after a week during which it looked anything but tournament-caliber, much less a Big Ten-quality group. That adjustment began with a visible shift in attitude, a team-wide refusal to quit that paid off with a huge victory.

From the get-go, the Wildcats looked assertive, poised and well-prepared. Certainly, they had a chip on their shoulder after Baylor ran them out of Welsh-Ryan by nearly 30 points last season. Nightmares of alley-oops and Quincys flying through the air lingered in the minds of many, reminders of a game that could have pushed their postseason résumé over the top.

Instead of reliving history, Northwestern frustrated Baylor, playing physically, winning loose balls, and executing Carmody's gameplan to perfection. They moved the ball well and found open looks against Scott Drew's zone. The Cats effectively managed its possessions, took good shots and defended well enough for a 35-32 lead at halftime. Moreover, NU showed a competitive spark it had lacked thus far, particularly in the last two losses. Dave Sobolewski jawed with Baylor's oft-irritating Pierre Jackson all game, admirably competing with one of the country's best guards.

Shortly after—despite his nice-guy reputation—Drew Crawford received a technical foul for hanging on the rim after an emphatic dunk. After Jared Swopshire was flagrantly brought to the ground by Ricardo Gathers, teammates sprinted to his defense showing they were unwilling to roll over. The Wildcats took no grief from Baylor, battled through questionable foul calls and pulled out the type of close, edge-of-your-seat win they'll need to repeat if they hope to make any noise in a loaded Big Ten. The best teams are defined by how they handle adversity, and Northwestern certainly passed the eye test.

Not to say this win wasn't ugly; points were hard-fought, and Baylor made the Wildcats work for every one of them, particularly in the last five minutes. After Sobolewski left with his fourth foul, the Bears amped up the pressure, forced turnovers and made things awfully uncomfortable for Northwestern and its fans. NU's lack of a true backup point guard nearly did them in, with secondary ball-handler Reggie Hearn fouling out and Carmody reluctant to use backup Tre Demps.

The Cats also missed several free throws down that final stretch, and their troubles were made painfully apparent as Baylor tried to climb back by purposely fouling free-throw challenged Alex Olah. Scott Drew's modified hack-a-Shaq gambit nearly worked, with his team drawing within three in the final minute and making everyone in purple sweat profusely.

The contest finished much closer than it should have. But the bottom line was, it was enough to win. Enough to get the haters off Carmody's back, for now.

Enough to draw scrutiny off Crawford, who turned in 19 points in spite of recent struggles, and enough to call some attention away from Northwestern's serious lack of bench depth, as four starters played over 33 minutes. Heck, the below-average rebounding Wildcats managed to win the glass 37-24, apocalypse jokes aside.

In the end, toughness and hustle won the day; the formula for many an upset and one the Wildcats must become familiar with to be part of the Big Ten conversation. With perennially talented Butler looming on Saturday night, the Cats have little time to catch their breath.

But for now, they must take their newfound frame of mind and run with it. After all, it's only December.

Follow on Twitter: @Jeremy_Woo

IlliniPlaybook.com Recommended Stories


  • Peyton Manning emerged alone atop yet another category in the NFL record book tonight vs the Niners, as he tossed touchdown #509 under the national spotlight of Sunday Night Football (NBC). (Photo…

  • Former USC and NFL running back LenDale White added tons of drama to what was a relatively quiet Homecoming weekend for the Trojans.

  • Here’s a way to watch football and improve your golf swing at the same time. In your living room (or on the range), practice the one-minute golf swing, as shown in this video. Set the timer on your…

  • Dr. Roto, like many others, can't believe Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (pictured above) passed for over 300 yards and rushed for over 100 yards in the same game. First time that's ever happened…

  • As soon as those winds fall off, get into the stand! I always tell people you can't kill them if you aren't out, but if you want to try and pick an opportune time – this is it.

Up Next


Tweets