Wildcats Ready For Baylor

Northwestern's greatest challenge of the young season comes on Sunday afternoon, as the Wildcats host No. 7 Baylor at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Bring on Baylor.

That's the mentality right now for Northwestern, which is riding a wave of confidence into Sunday's showdown against the No. 7 Bears after tying a school record with 20 three-pointers in a 92-67 drubbing of Mississippi Valley State.

The Wildcats are now 7-0, with double-digit wins against MVSU and Georgia Tech in the last week. With his team playing at its highest level this season, coach Bill Carmody was pleased with the performance in every aspect of the game.

"I thought we played well against Georgia Tech; we came out well against them," he said. "We're playing at nice level right now. We played a lot of different guys. The guys who have been playing a lot of minutes got their rest. I thought it was good all around.

"These guys were sharing the ball, getting it to the right guys and finishing the plays."

NU will have to be "good all around" Sunday if it wants to pull off one of the biggest upsets in school history, perhaps even better.

This game is a huge opportunity for NU to put on a showcase to the nation and take a big step toward going to its first NCAA Tournament in program history. The Cats know that, and they aren't downplaying the significance of it.

"It's the biggest non-conference game in my four years here," said Nick Fruendt, who came off the bench to lead the Cats with 21 points.

In fact, it's the biggest non-conference home game in most of these players' lifetimes, as the Bears are the highest-ranked non-conference team to play at Welsh-Ryan Arena since 1989.

"They're a big team, a good team, well coached," Carmody said. "But we've played some big teams, we played Tulsa. These guys probably more athletic."

Throughout the Carmody era, NU has struggled against big teams, as they've been out-manned inside. However, center Luka Mirkovic has shown great improvement this season and given the Cats more of a presence in the paint.

"He was getting pushed put earlier this year, but now he's getting inside and one dribble, he's at the rim," Carmody said. "I think that'll make a big difference for us."

Perhaps Fruendt put it better: "Luka went out and established that beastliness from center."

Mirkovic has to have his best game yet against Baylor in order to give the Cats more scoring options and open up shots outside. He's gotten more comfortable each game.

"Mirkovic, the last few games, has been really important. They're not double-teaming him and he's taking advantage."

Mirkovic's presence down low can open up good looks for NU's solid outside shooters, who came through early and often against MVSU to put the Delta Devils away. The Cats will need to shoot just as well on Sunday.

"I think the fact that we hit 20 (three-pointers) tonight will give us a lot of confidence," Reggie Hearn said. "Our three-point shot is a big weapon for us so now that we see we can hit that many. We have a good variety of guys hitting them for us, so it's going to be huge come Sunday."

Huge indeed. Nearly everything about this game is huge, from the tournament implications to the opponent. And if all the pieces fall into place again on Sunday — just as they have for the past two games — NU has a chance to pull out a win.

This is arguably the best team the Cats have had during the Carmody era, so if there was every a time to make a statement and a push for the NCAA tournament, Sunday's game offers an excellent opportunity.

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