15 February 2010

Recap: Northwestern 77 Minnesota 74 OT

It's a good thing cats have nine lives. By our count Northwestern has spent five lives against the likes of Tennessee State, Texas Pan American, Illinois, at Michigan, and now Minnesota.

In each of these games Northwestern (17-8, 6-7 Big Ten) overcame significant second half deficits to steal victory from the jaws of defeat. The Wildcats' overtime win over Minnesota (14-10, 5-7) may have been the most death defying of the bunch.

Northwestern trailed by a baker's dozen with eight minutes to go. The turnaround was sparked by a nice move in the low post by Luka Mirkovic for an easy bucket. A quick Minnesota turnover and a John Shurna bomb, his fifth of six on the afternoon, trimmed the deficit to eight points and swung momentum squarely to the white and purple.

From that point a balanced scoring effort and some solid defensive pressure, including two Luka Mirkovic steals, rallied Northwestern to a three point lead with 35 seconds to play. Blake Hoffarber, who had been held scoreless until that point, coolly knocked down a trey to knot the score at 57 at the end of regulation.

Cognizant of the importance of this game to keeping NCAA dreams alive, neither team backed down an inch during overtime. Northwestern opened up the period with a quick Shurna bucket on a beautiful up-and-under move. Minnesota responded with two free throws and a Hoffarber three, his second in a row. At that point it was difficult not to worry about a repeat of the game in Minneapolis in which Hoffarber heated up late to win the day for the Gophers.

NU remained calm and stuck to what got the Wildcats back into this game. Juice Thompson knocked down a big three to draw NU back into a tie. Then it was NU's defense which really made the difference. A Drew Crawford steal in the backcourt resulted in a Jeremy Nash layup and a two point NU lead. Then after Mirkovic got yet another steal Northwestern executed its offense beautifully which resulted in a crowd rousing layup on an assist from Juice Thompson to a cutting Drew Crawford.

Minnesota then shot itself in the foot when Ralph Sampson III missed the front end of a one-in-one with 1:14 to play. From that point it was a free throw contest. Luka Mirkovic defied the Gopher strategy to foul the worst FT shooter on the floor and knocked down four big free throws. NU wanted the ball in Juice's hands, and he made Carmody look like a genius as he knocked down all six of his FTs. Drew Crawford had the lone miss, but that came with only 0.2 seconds left on the clock with the game on ice.

John Shurna showed why he has been mentioned as a Big Ten MVP candidate with a 22 point effort including 6-13 shooting from distance as well as pulling down 5 rebounds and swatting two shots. Drew Crawford poured had 16 and 9 in addition to 3 steals, and Luka Mirkovic recorded another double-double with a 11 and 10 effort and 4 very important steals.

Jeremy Nash made his presence known on defense with 4 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 3 steals. Juice Thompson struggled most of the game but came up big with two big bombs down the stretch and going 6-6 from the charity striped in OT.

It was a great victory for Northwestern that showcased the mental tenacity of this squad. The final 13 minutes of this game are a good example of this team's potential. A harassing defense, a lethal and balance offense, and composure from the charity stripe during pressure packed moments. This team is fun to watch!