Northwestern Trying to Overcome Blowouts

The Wildcats showed a glimmer of hope for a short time, getting their only Big Ten win and barely losing to Indiana. But the happy days left quickly, and now they are trying to overcome the mental aspect as they get set to face the Gophers in the conference tournament Thursday.

Thanks to the icy winds that whip off Lake Michigan, winters can be awfully cold on Northwestern's campus. They can be dreary and depressing, too.

Now try to calculate how winters must feel for Northwestern's basketball players. They head into the Big Ten tournament with just one conference win under their belt — and their first-round game comes against a Minnesota team that hammered them by 19 and 20 points in their regular-season matches.

Northwestern thought it had poked a hole in its cloudy ceiling, and perhaps allowed a ray of sunshine to come through, when it won at Michigan and came within a last-second shot of beating Indiana.

But then came back-to-back home losses to Iowa and Wisconsin to close out the regular season. The Wildcats are trying to blow those out of their mind as they head into Indianapolis.

"It's tough," said sophomore forward Kevin Coble. "It's very frustrating to have those games that we let get away, to have games that were right there and then it runs out. The Purdue game here, Indiana (here) was especially rough, at Iowa."

NOTES

  • With a pair of 3-pointers in Saturday's regular-season finale against Wisconsin, junior shooting guard Craig Moore secured the Big Ten regular-season titles in 3-pointers for all games as well as Big Ten play.

    Moore hit 94 3-pointers overall to outdistance Iowa's Justin Johnson by 2. Moore clicked on 56 of those in league games to edge Iowa's Tony Freeman by 2.

    Provided Moore doesn't lose his leads during postseason play, he'll become the first Wildcat to lead the Big Ten in those categories since the 3-pointer went into effect for good prior to the 1986-87 season.

  • It gets tiresome to point out Northwestern's rebounding ineptitude, but it goes a long way to explain why the Wildcats can't hang with the big dogs in the Big Ten.

    Take the first half of Northwestern's 65-52 loss to Big Ten champ Wisconsin on Saturday. The Badgers made 12 of 25 shots from the field before the break. Of those 13 misses, Wisconsin retrieved 8 of them and turned them into 8 points. Meanwhile, Northwestern missed 14 shots, grabbed just 1 offensive rebound and didn't score any second-chance points. Wisconsin's 8-0 edge in second-chance points accounted for almost all of its 29-20 halftime lead.

  • Northwestern used the same starting lineup for its final eight regular-season games. Redshirt freshman center Ivan Peljusic was the last piece to the puzzle. Sixth man Jeremy Nash might as well be a starter as he usually plays more minutes than starter Sterling Williams.

  • Since sophomore forward Kevin Coble didn't play prior to January due to his leave of absence, he couldn't get in enough games to make the list of Big Ten scoring leaders. But Coble's average of 15.2 points in conference play earned him a top-five spot among scorers in Big Ten games.

  • When Northwestern held its Senior Day festivities on Saturday, originally designed only for Jason Okrzesik and walk-on Tonjua Jones, junior Jean-Marc Melchior decided to bid the Wildcats adieu, too.

    Melchior, a Luxembourg native who never found a way for his leaping ability and strong build to translate into playing time, will obtain his Northwestern degree in just three years' time.

    Melchior's decision not to return gives NU an open scholarship. The Wildcats could look to add a big man that would give them a four-freshman class next fall, or they could bank it and have three rides to hand out to the Class of 2009. They already have one commitment there.

  • Sophomore swingman Jeff Ryan, who owns 12 starts this year, has missed the last seven games after taking a knee to his right thigh against Ohio State on Feb. 13. Ryan returned to practice recently, but his status for the Big Ten tournament remains up in the air. His thigh needs to show improvement in order to allow him to play.

    IN FOCUS: To put it simply, Minnesota is a terrible matchup for undersized Northwestern. The Gophers won their regular-season matchups by 19 and 20 points as they used their superior size to dominate inside. And when the Wildcats tried to fortify the middle, the Gophers riddled them with 3-pointers.

    Minnesota shot 53 percent from the field and 48 percent on 3-pointers during the regular-season games. Considering there's little chance the Wildcats will suddenly grow big enough and tough enough to battle the Gophers on the boards, they might want to focus on the perimeter defense. Maybe they can force enough turnovers to pull off the upset and get into the quarterfinals for the first time in three years.

    PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters — F Kevin Coble, C Ivan Peljusic, G Michael Thompson, G Sterling Williams, G Craig Moore. Key Subs — G Jeremy Nash, C Nikola Baran, G Jason Okrzesik.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "You have to take that record with a grain of salt, I think, and that's what we're trying to do." — Northwestern sophomore forward Kevin Coble suggesting that his team's 1-17 Big Ten finish is deceiving.


    GAME REVIEW:

    Purdue 68, Northwestern 43

    Iowa 67, Northwestern 62

    Wisconsin 65, Northwestern 52

    GAME PREVIEW:

    Vs. Minnesota in Big Ten tournament's first round, Thursday, March 13


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