‘Kohl’d Blooded Win
Three weeks ago, there was nothing. There were exchanges before the Illinois game that went as followed: “What are they going to lose by? 10? 20?” “They might win one Big Ten game. No way it’s tonight.”I, for one, picked Northwestern to lose by 14. It seemed like a no-brainer. They struggled mightily in non-conference play against sub-par opponents and were facing a then Top 25 team in Illinois. Sure enough, what ended up happening on that cold, bitter Sunday night, would be the start of what has turned into one of the feel good stories of the year, not just in the Big Ten, but in Men’s Division I College Basketball.
The Wildcats stole their fourth upset on Wednesday, stunning Wisconsin 65-56 in Madison. Drew Crawford had his best game of the season. He finally found his shot and went 10-for-15 from the field, and 3-for-5 from long distance, resulting in the first 30-point performance of any Wildcat this season. At the conclusion of the game, the bench erupted in joy, chest bumps and most importantly, triumph. It’s starting to become a routine, as these Cats have now won 4 of the last 6, two against Top 25 teams, and one at perhaps the most hostile road environment in the Big Ten, Assembly Hall in Bloomington.
Northwestern lacks talent, so much so that their own coach admits they can’t score. They’re bad at twos, threes, free throws – practically everything. But challengers be warned: they play harder than you. They slide for every loose ball and get most of them. They slow you down until you physically and mentally can’t take it anymore.
Sound easy to stop? Ask the four Big Ten programs that are now victims of Chris Collins’ genius. This team officially deserves your attention. Most importantly, they deserve your respect.
There are no words to describe the last three weeks. Before that, to stay positive, fans just talked about Vic Law and Bryant McIntosh. This year was an afterthought until the Wildcats proved otherwise. It looked like the worst team in the Big Ten, and maybe in Northwestern history.
On Wednesday night, the game was theirs from the start. It has never been like that before. They played tough, in-your-face defense, and held Wisconsin to their worst shooting night of the season, an abysmal 26.3%. On the other side of the ball, they exhausted the shot clock and prayed their shots went in. To the surprise of many, those shots fell 47.9% of the time, making for their sweetest win of the season and Northwestern’s first in Madison since 1996.
It wasn’t just that one win, though. It wasn’t just the previous three. Together, this was validation of a season only mid-way through conference play. They’ll lose many more, as hard as they try, but they’ll make it all mean something.
It’s a valediction for Crawford, a pronouncement of Collins’ brilliance and a reminder that sound fundamentals can often finish first in the end. There’s a good chance Northwestern loses this string of success by falling at Minnesota and at Michigan State in two of its next three games, but it simply won’t matter – their statement has been made. This NU team plays their hearts out. They put it on the line. They’re fighters.
In what was once considered a rebuilding season, they found a whole lot to root for.