Welcome To Heartbreak

Heartbreak. A painful feeling that Northwestern fans have come accustomed to. Thursday's first-round loss to Minnesota was a blow -- likely, the final one -- to the program's hopes of a first-ever berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Welcome to heartbreak.

Really, Northwestern doesn't need an introduction; the Wildcats have certainly become well-acquainted with heartbreak throughout this season and throughout history.

So many close losses, so many missed opportunities, so much history of failure in the clutch all came down to one game to rewrite the history book. Yet the script stayed the same, as NU choked away a game in regulation and lost in overtime for the third time this year, falling to Minnesota 75-68.

It's easy to look at, or even blame this loss on history. And barring a miracle, history will likely be the storyline on Selection Sunday yet again. But — as hard as it might be to do — forget about history for a second, because this loss had nothing to do with what has happened in the history of Northwestern basketball; this loss signaled a missed opportunity for this team, compounded by so many others in a disappointing year.

This NU team wasn't playing for all the failed season that came before it. These Cats were playing for the chance to end the season on a high note. They were thinking about the present, not the teams who have gone before them.

"I was thinking about that game," sophomore guard Jershon Cobb said. "My dad always says, ‘Don't worry about things you can't control.' At that time we could control the game so we were just trying to play the game."

In yet another game, NU couldn't get it done with play on the court, especially in the final minutes.

This team certainly has the talent and the experience to play with anyone in the Big Ten. That has been echoed by many coaches this season who came close to losing to the Cats, including Minnesota's Tubby Smith.

"Hopefully they'll move onto the NCAA (Tournament), as they certainly deserve it," Smith said of NU after Thursday's game.

However, NCAA Tournament selections aren't based on coaches' suggestions or eye tests; they're based on wins and losses, and NU couldn't get it done in that column this season, especially late in games.

Call it poise, call it bad breaks, call it whatever you want — "it" just wasn't there for NU this year.

"I mean, obviously I guess you have to look at (poise) just because we've had so many close games and we've lost a couple of them," Shurna said.

Shurna will go down as one of the greatest players in Northwestern history and without his presence, NU wouldn't have even been on the bubble this season. However, he was absent late in games as the season wound down, and that was apparent against Thursday night.

Nobody else stepped up for the Cats, just as nobody did against Michigan (twice), Purdue (twice), Indiana, Illinois and Ohio State. That's why NU will likely hang another "NIT Participant" banner. It has nothing to do with history.

Did the Cats repeat history? Most likely, yes. But history isn't an excuse for this season's failures, nor should we compare this year to years past.

Thursday's loss was about this team and its failure to meet its ultimate goal. This team failed to find someone to step up in the clutch all year, and in the end it paid the price.

NU wasn't cursed by history; the Cats just repeated it. However, it's heartbreak either way and that's something NU fans have become accustomed to dealing with, be it with this team or the last one.

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