The Northwestern Wildcats entered Sunday evening tasked with the daunting challenge of ending a two-game losing streak on the road against the seventh ranked Wisconsin Badgers in Madison, after losing to #23 Purdue and Illinois to close out the month of January.
On Sunday the Wildcats solidified their NCAA tournament resume with a victory on the road over the Wisconsin Badgers, even with their leading scorer Scottie Lindsey on the bench, suffering from an illness. The Wildcats, who have seen their 2016-2017 team ranked in the AP Top-25 poll for the first time since the 2009-2010 season, fought back from a 14-7 deficit early in Sunday’s game, going on a 16-0 run of their own in the first half and eventually taking a 31-22 lead into halftime.
The Wildcats would keep their foot on the gas in the second half on Sunday, even after the Badgers went on a 10-0 run to open the second half, the Wildcats again countered the Wisconsin surge with a run of their own, scoring eight unanswered, capped by an emphatic put-back dunk by Sophomore Dererk Pardon.
The Wildcats would not relinquish the momentum after that dunk on Sunday, eventually earning a huge victory over the #7 Badgers, 66-59.
Northwestern improved their season record to 19-6, and 8-4 in Big 10 play, and with just seven games remaining on the Wildcats regular season schedule, the Cats’ win over their Big 10 rivals to the north will likely have a tremendous effect on the Wildcats chances of returning to the AP Top-25 Poll, as well as their bid for a NCAA Tournament berth next month.
The Wildcats will play five of their seven remaining games in the comforts of their home, Welsh-Ryan Arena, where the Cats’ are 12-2 this season, playing well for the Wildcats bid for their best record in the school’s 112 year history. On Wednesday evening at Welsh-Ryan Arena the Wildcats will host the #21 Maryland Terrapins in a bid for their 20th victory of the season, which would match last season’s school record for wins, and with six games remaining on the schedule after the Cats’ Wednesday match-up with Maryland the chances of seeing the Wildcats win their school record 21st game of the season are very high.
If all goes well, Northwestern fans should circle their calendars for the teams match-up with Rutgers next Saturday at the Welsh-Ryan Arena.
But the Wildcats are looking beyond their best regular season in school history, focusing on their bid for a run at the NCAA Tournament next month, and according to Head Coach Chris Collins, Sunday’s win was one of the utmost importance to the program;
“We’re trying to build a program to emulate what Wisconsin has done … with the right guys who want to believe in something bigger than themselves,” coach Chris Collins said. “When you get a chance to play against those teams firsthand, you learn from it, and then you have success. I want these guys to feel good about it. It was a great win for us.”
Coming off of a headliner victory on the road, over a top-10 AP ranked Wisconsin team, and looking at a home date with the #21 Maryland Terrapins this week, the Wildcats are nearing a more important piece of school history, their first ever NCAA Tournament berth.
On Friday the Wildcats were listed as a potential 8th seed in ESPN’s weekly projections for the field of 64, and should climb even higher this week regardless of the result versus Maryland this week after their huge victory over the Badgers this weekend.
The chances of the Wildcats playing in the first NCAA Tournament in school history next month are higher than ever as we enter mid-February, and the next few weeks should hold plenty of reasons to celebrate in Evanston.