With 8:53 to play in the first half Illinois sophomore Nick Smith utilized a nifty behind-the-back pass to find teammate Roger Powell under the basket for an easy bucket that extended the Illi's lead to 17 points, 31-13.Carmody pleased with effort
The scrappy Wildcats, however, refused to be blown out by the Illini as the Michigan State Spartans had been by 30 points earlier in the week. Northwestern stepped up its intensity and began to chip away at the Illinois lead. Despite Illinois shooting 74% from the floor in the first half to Northwestern's 42%, the Wildcats trailed by only ten at halftime, 43-33.
In the second half, the Illini looked to pounded the ball inside to Big Ten Player-of-the-Year candidate senior Brian Cook, who was held to only three points in the first half. This strategy put points on the board for the Illini and caused foul trouble for the Wildcats, who dressed only nine players for the game.
Nevertheless, the Wildcat motion offense continued to create open shots and back-door opportunities to keep Northwestern on pace with Illini. And by taking advantage of fast-break opportunities, Northwestern was able to edge closer and closer to the Illini.
With 12:46 to play, the Wildcats cut the lead down to eight points on a fast break punctuated by a spectacular no-look, behind-the-back pass on the run from Northwestern freshman Mohamed Hachad to teammate Jason Burke for the layup.
The deficit was cut to six points with 10:32 to play when freshman guard T.J. Parker put back a missed Hachad layup on another fast break.
Northwestern drew with five points of Illinois with 8:08 remaining on a three-point field goal from the top of the key from senior center Aaron Jennings.
Just over two minutes later, junior Jitim Young drove past his man through the lane and found the basket on a reverse layup to whittle the deficit down to four points and force an Illinois timeout with 5:50 to play.
After stopping Illinois on the ensuing possession, Northwestern had the ball with an opportunity to cut the lead to two points or one point. As had been the case earlier in the week against Minnesota in a similar situation, the Wildcats were unable to capitalize and committed two unforced turnovers in the next three possessions. Young stepped on an end line on one possession and Jennings stepped on a baseline two possessions later in the course of simply running the offense.
Illinois continued to force the ball inside and Northwestern's only true center, Jennings, fouled out with 2:41 to play with the Wildcats trailing 64-55. With the Wildcats now even more severely outsized and time winding down, Northwestern was unable to complete the comeback and pull off the upset as they fell by 12 points, 73-61.
The loss dropped Northwestern's record to 10-14, 2-11 in the Big Ten. Illinois improved to 18-5, 8-4 and stayed within one loss of conference-leading Michigan.
The Wildcats were led in scoring by Jason Burke with 15 points. Jennings and Parker each scored 13 and dished out four assists.
Illinois was led by Roger Powell with a career-high 20 points. Brian Cook followed with 17. The victory marked the 200th career victory for Illini head coach Bill Self.
Northwestern Head Coach Bill Carmody criticized his team's effort ealier in the week after they allowed Minnesota to jump out to a 27-point lead in the first half Wednesday night. After Saturday's game, Carmody was much more upbeat: "I liked our effort throughout the whole game. I don't know if we dug ourselves a hole in the first half as much as they put us there."Thin and thinner
Northwestern has been struggling with its depth all season. Injuries have forced the need for all three assistant coaches to scrimmage against the team in practice. On Saturday at the United Center, Northwestern dressed only nine players with injured players Ivan Tolic and Vedran Vukusic on the bench in street clothes. Freshman forward Jimmy Maley was conspicuously absent from the Northwestern bench. WGN Radio reported that Jimmy was unable to make the trip due to illness.The upcoming tilt
The Wildcats receive a much needed rest this week before hosting the Penn State Nittany Lions next Saturday at 1 p.m.
Gregory Kane covers Northwestern basketball
for PurpleWildcats/PurpleReign. He also posts on Northwestern message
boards as "go cats go". Gregory can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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