NU Boosts Its Postseason Résumé

Northwestern earned a pivotal win on Saturday, holding off the Hawekeyes for a down-to-the-wire finish. Whether it was good fortunes or fate on the Wildcats' side, the victory over Iowa is a big boost toward the Big Ten Tournament.

For the second straight game, Northwestern's opponent had a chance to take a lead with under five seconds left. On Wednesday, Jared Sullinger's layup in the last five seconds helped Ohio State secure a victory over the Wildcats, crushing their chance for a resume-building win for the NCAA Tournament.

Saturday, Iowa's Josh Oglesby put up a potential game-winning three in the closing seconds, hoping to put a dagger in the Cats' tournament hopes in stunningly similar fashion.

"It looked good from my angle," NU forward Drew Crawford said.

The way things have gone Crawford's team recently, who could blame him? But this time, the script was different, as Oglesby's shot hit the front of the rim, allowing the Cats to survive in Iowa City with a 70-66 win and live for another day on the tournament bubble.

Northwestern has suffered through some brutal, close losses this season — fate or a curse, Cats fans have said.

But Saturday, the good bounces and the clutch shots went NU's way, helping the Cats inch closer to that elusive tournament berth. That signals a different kind of fate, the optimist would say.

However, fate or not, what's important is that NU finally pulled out a close win and did so in a game it absolutely had to have. Throughout the Big Ten season, the Cats had proved that they certainly belonged on the same court as anyone in the conference. On Saturday, they proved they can win a big game, not just hang around.

"This was an important game for us," coach Bill Carmody said in possibly the understatement of the year. "For six weeks we've been playing pretty well; we haven't won them all, but we've been playing pretty well. We're pretty used to close games, but we lost a bunch."

None of those losses were "must-wins" individually, but the missed opportunities added up to make Saturday's game one NU had to win. The Cats got it, with one favorable bounce — a bounce that wasn't there against Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan, Purdue or Illinois.

But to chalk this season up to fate, one way or the other, would be a mistake.

Northwestern didn't win Saturday because its destined for the Big Dance this March, nor did the Cats lose to Ohio State or anyone else because of some Chicago Cubs-like curse.

NU won in Iowa City because it rebounded well on the offensive boards — that happens "once a century" according to Carmody — and the Cats received contributions from players other than John Shurna, as Crawford had 18 points and Jershon Cobb added 13. Those are the things NU didn't do consistently in their close losses, particularly at the ends of those games, and the things that led to the favorable bounces at times against the Hawkeyes.

"When you tend to have energy and you're playing hard and giving all your effort that tends to happen," Crawford said. "You get balls to bounce your way and things go well for you."

With their first "must-win" out of the way, the Cats move on to a similar situation against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday. To pull out a win against the Golden Gophers, NU must put itself in position to get those favorable bounces once again.

Which set of Cats will show up on Thursday? The one that squandered games late or the one that executed in the clutch in Iowa City?

Only one thing is for sure: this one, like all the other big games this year, is in Northwestern's hands. And fate will have nothing to do with it.

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