It took a long time, but it was a good time.
Following a two-game losing streak and eight-day gap between games, it was anyone’s guess what kind of Northwestern team would show up to Welsh-Ryan Arena Monday. Would it be a sluggish group, recovering from COVID and dealing with the aftermath of not having team practice for a week? Or was it going to be the Wildcats we saw take down the Spartans, Illini and Hoosiers in the span of a month via strong, athletic defense?
It was more of the latter Monday, as Northwestern showed up ready to play, taking the early lead and not looking back in the first half. It was an impressive start for a team that Chris Collins said had not really held organized practice since the Michigan game eight days earlier. However, as the Badgers came out of the half on an 8-0 run and regained the lead, the Wildcats’ sky-high start came plummeting back to Earth.
But the Wildcats didn’t let go. In the midst of an early-second-half collapse and shouts from the fans yelling, “GUARD THE THREE-POINT LINE,” the seniors rallied their men and returned to battle with a newfound urgency. After Chris Collins called a timeout, Boo Buie said the ‘Cats’ biggest message was handling adversity, something they’ve really focused on this year after losing so many games late last year.
“Basketball is a game full of runs, and players are good,” Buie said after the game. “So if you have breakdowns, guys are going to make shots. We came out and had a couple breakdowns. We called a timeout, we got on each other, and we just figured it out.
The timeout worked. Immediately after, Buie responded with a three, and the ‘Cats did not allow a run of more than two consecutive baskets for the remainder of the game. Even when getting down 57-54 with six minutes left, Buie and Chase Audige answered with consecutive baskets to retake the lead.
And even with two bigs in foul trouble and two wings dealing with injury, Northwestern’s star guards were able to carry them to victory.
Monday evening’s bout was a gritty, gutsy win, and those are exactly the kinds of wins the Wildcats need to get into deep March play. They’ve had several of these so far, and at 4-3 in conference play, Northwestern is currently in pretty good standing among a Big Ten that keeps beating up on itself. A win over Wisconsin, a team that was ranked just two weeks ago, is nothing to snuff at.
With upcoming matchups against bottom-feeders Nebraska and Minnesota, Northwestern could cement itself in the upper tier of the conference as nearly all Big Ten teams (save for Purdue and Minnesota) have between three and five wins. A 6-3 Big Ten start and 15-5 overall record would be a great step in the right direction for a team that’s about to play a brutal six games in 13 days.
There is a path to success for the Wildcats. Despite the outside noise and unfortunate circumstances leading to game cancellations, the ‘Cats have remained dialed in, and have sent a message that this is not the team of old and will be competing in meaningful games in March.