Chicago Sun-Times
with Tina Akouris

February 2012 Archives

No lucky charms for Reggie Hearn, Wildcats

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Will the men's basketball team take a cue from the football team and adopt a stuffed animal -- like a monkey -- or some other trinket for luck during the last week of the regular season? Guard Reggie Hearn doesn't think so.

"We could do that, but we'll just come out [Wednesday against Ohio State] and be ready to play and after that look forward to Iowa [Saturday]," Hearn said. "There's no trinket at all, just the knowledge that we have history right before us and it's time to take it."

The football team had a stuffed monkey they toted around the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston to ward off the Wildcats' winless bowl game jinx. Each day a different player took a turn carrying the monkey on their back for a day. It didn't work.

But just because the basketball team doesn't have a stuffed animal to carry around doesn't mean they are ignoring their history.

"As a team we are definitely embracing it and we know we have a chance to make history," Hearn said. "For each and very one of us to be a part of that is really special. We're looking forward to making that happen."

The bluntness of Bill Carmody

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I don't think Bill Carmody could have been any more blunt.

"We have two games in front of us. This is our chance."

The Wildcats host Ohio State Wednesday night in the home finale and then head out to Iowa Saturday afternoon for the final game of the regular season. If the Wildcats want to make any more noise with the NCAA selection committee before the Big Ten tournament next week, it will have to be now.

It isn't just up to Carmody to get his players motivated. Guys like senior John Shurna know their college careers are almost over. The sense of urgency rests heavy on their shoulders.

"They see their career coming to an end and they don't want that to happen," Carmody said. "You see guys who break down after big games because they care so much."

During the ESPNU telecast of the Wildcats' 67-66 victory at Penn State Saturday, the Wildcats were frequently mentioned as a "bubble team" for the tournament. Carmody may not like talking about hypotheticals, but he is glad his team is still in the discussion for an NCAA bid.

"That's good for us," he said.

* Carmody admitted that he can't remember much of the last time NU played Iowa, an 83-64 victory on Feb. 9.

"I forget," Carmody said. "We were at home, for starters.

"It's a long season. Iowa is getting better and they just lost at Illinois [65-54 Sunday] and you know it's going to be a hard game there."

* As for Ohio State, the key to beating the Buckeyes is obvious: stopping Jared Sullinger.

"I'm not sure what our game plan will be, but it starts with Sullinger and how are we going to stop him."

Does Northwestern still have an NCAA chance?

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Was Michigan the make it or break it game for Northwestern? And since the Wildcats lost in overtime (the second time this season the Wildcats lost to Michigan in OT), did they ruin their chances to get into the NCAA tournament?

"I don't feel [deflated]," coach Bill Carmody said. "They know history, they know what has come before them. But they also know they've done pretty well here.

"I think the selection committee -- and I don't like talking about this because we're 6-9 -- but I think the Big Ten tournament [is] important. They see you on TV.  A run now is really important and it will help us. I think you still need to win a bunch of games."

Unless NU wins the Big Ten tournament outright in two weeks in Indianapolis, nothing is secure. And with all the hype surrounding that game with the Wolverines -- some called it the biggest game in the program's history -- there should be some emotional letdown, shouldn't there? Is there a chance the Wildcat go into Penn State Saturday a little deflated?

"It was really emotional and a tough loss to handle, but like all losses we have to move on from it and we have to move on from it now," forward Drew Crawford said. "I think we still have a great chance to finish the year strong. We know the importance [of the last three games]. I know that the only thing we can do is win every game."

NU is at Penn State Saturday and comes home to host Ohio State Wednesday before ending the season March 3 in Iowa.

Adonis Smith leaves Northwestern

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Did Adonis Smith see the writing on the wall? Or did he just want to go home to Oakland, Calif.?

Either way, Smith is leaving the Wildcats' football program after a somewhat injury-riddled sophomore season that saw him play in eight games and rush for only 266 yards.

Smith was the fourth leading rusher behind quarterback Kain Colter, and backs Jacob Schmidt and Treyvon Green.

Smith became the second running back to transfer out of NU in consecutive seasons. Another California native, Arby Fields, left the Wildcats after the 2010 season and now plays baseball at LSU.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald has stressed in the past that he wanted to find "the guy" to succeed at running back. He may have found that missing piece in Joliet Catholic product Malin Jones, who signed with the Wildcats earlier this month. Jones has rushed for over 4,000 career yards at JCA and could be annointed as the future of the Wildcats' offense when camp starts in August.

There were message board rumors as early as overnight Saturday that Smith was going to leave. And on Wednesday, NU confirmed it.

Northwestern's John Shurna gets scoring record

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John Shurna's unassisted three-pointer from the top of the arc at the 10:44 mark of the second half, placed the Glen Ellyn native atop Northwestern's all-time career scoring list.
Shurna needed 16 points to tie Billy McKinney's mark of 1,900 career points and 17 to tie. Shurna now has 19,002 career points. Northwestern leads Minnesota 50-40 with 10:33 to go in the second half.

John Shurna still waiting on the record

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John Shurna may have started out 0-for-3 against Minnesota Saturday at Welsh-Ryan Arena, but he came alive in the last 3:40 of the first half, scoring 12 consecutive points for the Wildcats. Shurna is only four points shy of tying Billy McKinney's record of 1,900 career points, and five away from owning the school's career scoring record outright.

At halftime, NU leads Minnesota 36-28.

John Shurna nears Northwestern scoring record

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John Shurna doesn't want much attention brought to him if he breaks the school's all-time career scoring record against Minnesota at Welsh-Ryan Arena Saturday. He'd rather focus on getting more victories for NU as they try to make the NCAA tournament for the first time. Every win from here on out is crucial.

"Every game is a dogfight, especially defending our home court," Shurna said. "Every game has had the feel of a must-win game for a while now. We have to go out there with the mentality of leaving it all out there on the floor."

Billy McKinney, who played at NU from 1974-77, holds the record with 1,900 points. Shurna heads into Saturday's game with a career total of 1,884.

"If your team is doing well, then you're helping your team win," Shurna said. "I think I'd like to say I've never focused on individual goals. If I don't score the rest of the season and we win our games, I'll be happy."

"Being the leading scorer in school history is a huge accomplishment," forward Drew Crawford said. "But I think what is more impressive is that it doesn't matter to him."

Coach Bill Carmody had asked to see more of Shurna's selfishness over the past couple fo weeks, which has led to the senior forward averaging 25 points over the past two games in losses to Purdue and Indiana. Shurna has been one of those guys for the Wildcats who have played close to, or at, 40 minutes.

"Now we have to win," Carmody said. "I wish I would have taken him out for a minute here or a mintue there, but he's taken on himself to put points on the board."

Crawford was asked if Saturday's game is a must-win for NU. After thinking a moment Crawford said, "Yeah, I think so. It is a game we really need to get, so we're going to be excited for it.

"We've split with them, last year we were 2-1 against them and the year before 1-1," Crawford said. "It's always a good matchup against them. They've got some long guys inside like Michigan State does and they block a lot of shots. They're pretty intense."

Northwestern women stun No. 16 Nebraska

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The Northwestern's women's basketball team upset No. 16 Nebraska 63-51 Thursday at the Devaney Center in Lincoln, Neb., ending a three-game losing streak.

The Wildcats (14-12, 4-9) were led by Dannielle Diamant's 19 points and eight rebounds, while Kendall Hackney contributed 17 points and five rebounds. Hackney was 3-of-5 from the three-point line.

The Wildcats took the lead for good with 9:18 to play in the game, when they went ahead 49-45.

Nebraska falls to 19-6, 8-5 in the Big Ten and lost for only the third time at home this season. 

Drew Crawford, Dave Sobolewski confident at Indiana

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Walking into Indiana's Assembly Hall in Bloomington can blow you away if you've never been there before. It's loud, the students are whipped into a frenzy and it can remind you of a high school gym on a Friday night of a really big ball game.

That's what Northwestern has to deal with Wednesday night when they face the No. 18 Hoosiers.

"We won three of the last four and we feel confident," Drew Crawford said. "It's a very tough place to play and they have great support down there. We have to stay composed as a team and [freshman point guard] Dave [Sobolewski] is going to do that for us."

Sobolewski has never played at Assembly Hall, but he hasn't really asked for advice on the experience and notes that every arena the Wildcats play at is a tough environment.

"Their fans are nuts there, but we've seen crazy atmospheres all year long so we'll be ready," Sobolewski said. "They have the best three-point percentage in the conference and we can't let them get any good looks. They can catch fire pretty easily, especially at home."

Drew Crawford still upset about losing his cool

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Northwestern forward Drew Crawford is beyond embarrassed about the two technicals he got at Purdue Sunday in the Wildcats' 87-77 loss and his ensuing ejection. Before practice on Tuesday, Crawford was still upset with himself and opened up about a conversation he had with his father, NBA referee Danny Crawford.

"I talked to him and I was completely embarrassed about that," Crawford said. "It was uncalled for and I didn't represent the team or the school the right way. He said you can't lose your head like that. It's something that you can't do. You have to stay composed on the court.

"I think I got one in high school but it was in a summer league game. It was not like me to lose my cool like that."

Bill Carmody speculating on a tournament bid

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Northwestern starts an all-Indiana road trip with games at Purdue on Sunday and then at Indiana on Wednesday.

The Wildcats will need to get balanced scoring from the rest of their lineup not named John Shurna or Drew Crawford. Reggie Hearn and Dave Sobolewski have stepped up to that task more than admirably in the Wildcats' past three consecutive victories against Nebraska, Illinois and Iowa Thursday night.

And in terms of tournament talk, coach Bill Carmody is pretty sure that a .500 record will get the Wildcats into the NCAAs for the first time. He even speculated that the 'Cats can go 8-10 and possibly still get into the tournament.

On a side note, Carmody said Juice Thompson visited the team this past week, since Thompson had a few days off from his German team. Thompson didn't address the team, per se, but he visited with some of the guys like Sobolewski. That visit may have given them the extra push they needed to hammer Iowa 83-64.

Bill Carmody not thinking RPI, just wins

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Northwestern hosts Iowa at Welsh-Ryan Arena Thursday night, and the Wildcats will try and repeat the magic they had against Illinois Sunday at Assembly Hall in Champaign, when the Wildcats beat the Illini 74-70. And with the second half of the Big Ten season well underway and a month until the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis, the Wildcats know they will need to finish league play either at .500 or above if they want to get an NCAA tournament bid -- or win the Big Ten tournament outright. Then, there would be no questions asked.

Coach Bill Carmody isn't overlooking anyone at this point.

"I think last year it was [Iowa coach] Fran [McCaffery's] first year and he was getting used to them and they were getting used to him and they are playing very well right now, at a high level," Carmody said. "They use lots of different guys. They can score and it is really a different team than in the past. He is coaching them hard and playing real well."

The Illinois victory was another signature win for NU, the other being the Jan. 14 victory over Michigan State. The Wildcats latest RPI is 37, but Carmody doesn't care.

"I never look at that. It's a short answer, but if you do look at it, you [should] look at it in another three weeks.

"We have 18 games in conference and [Sunday at Illinois] was the first in the second half. In the Big Ten you're playing against good teams and it won't change that much, RPI wise. At the end of the day, you still have to have the wins and if you go .500 in conference you have a pretty good chance."

As a reference point, Illinois' RPI is 44.

John Shurna, Dave Sobolewski earn Big Ten honors

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The afterglow of Northwestern's 74-70 victory over Illinois in Champaign continued Monday when John Shurna was named a co-Big Ten Player of the Week with Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, and Dave Sobolewski was named the conference's co-Freshman of the Week with Iowa's Aaron White.

Shurna, the league's leading scorer with a 19.6 points per game average, averaged 26 points this week in Wildcat wins over Nebraska at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Thursday and at Illinois on Sunday. The win at Assembly Hall was the Wildcats' first win in Champaign since 1999.

In the Illinois win, Shurna scored the bulk of his 24 points in the second half (17) and his point total moved him into second place on the program's all-time leading scorers list, surpassing Evan Eschmeyer. Shurna went 11 of 15 from the field against the Illini and averaged 71.4 percent from the field in his two games last week.

"I think, even in the last game, I thought he looked, [in the second half] like he's just more aggressive," coach Bill Carmody said. "He's not a Raggedy Ann doll -- and I've accused him of that -- with his arrms going one way. He seems stronger and more controlled going to the basket."

Sobolewski played all 40 minutes at Illinois and scored 14 points and did not commit a turnover. For the week, Sobolewski averaged 14.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.5, and scored 15 points, grabbed a team-high six rebounds and handed out five assists in the Nebraska victory.

His 3.36 assist-to-turnover ratio leads the Big Ten and is third nationally.

* Carmody said Monday that he is hopeful the team will get guard JerShon Cobb back in the lineup soon. Cobb has been out for nearly a month with left leg discomfort, but Carmody said Cobb was able to practice for "a day and a half" last week. Carmody also said he is optimistic that center Luka Mirkovic could play at least 10 minutes when the Wildcats host Iowa Thursday.

Northwestern finally beat Illinois in Champaign, for the first time since 1999. It also gives the Wildcats their second "signature victory" of the season, their first being an 81-74 upset over then-No. 6 Michigan State on Jan. 14. Guard Reggie Hearn is optimistic that the Wildcat's 74-70 victory over the Illini will help NU's chances for an NCAA tournament bid.

"This is definitely a big win for us, and going into our next game [Thursday at home against Iowa] at 3-7 would be very bad to get into the tournament and it would be better to have at least a .500 record," Hearn said. "It was great to get this kind of rivalry win, but its just another win in the grand scheme of things."

For the second game in a row, coach Bill Carmody used a six-man rotation. Drew Crawford and Dave Sobolewski both played 40 minutes and Hearn clocked in at 32. There is always a concern for fatigue, but Hearn isn't going to admit it.

"I think its working, but I don't know if I'm going to admit that I get tired," Hearn said. "But there is times when you get winded but that's the game. We're going with a six-man rotation and you have to push through it."

Bill Carmody keeps it the same at Illinois

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Bill Carmody is using the same lineup against Illinois Sunday at Assembly Hall in Champaign that he did in the Wildcats' 84-74 victory over Nebraska at Welsh-Ryan Thursday night. Carmody went with the starting five of Reggie Hearn, John Shurna, Alex Marcotullio, Dave Sobolewski and Drew Crawford.

But something to watch as this game goes on will be Shurna, Sobolewski and Crawford who played 40, 38 and 38 minutes against the Cornhuskers, respectively. Against Nebraska, Carmody played only six guys. He may do the same thing against the Illini.

Northwestern almost let a sure victory get away from them Thursday night against Nebraska.

A 15-point halftime lead dwindled in the second half and Nebraska nearly drove an already depleted Wildcats team into the ground. But a 9-2 Wildcats run to end the game stopped the Cornhuskers and NU was able to end a three-game losing streak. Prior to Thursday night, the Wildcats hadn't won since upsetting Michigan State on Jan. 14.

"It felt really good to get this win, especially since we had some tough games this season so I thought it was really important to show up," Drew Crawford said. "Hopefully this will get us on a roll."

John Shurna, freshman Dave Sobolewski and Crawford played the bulk of minutes for NU against Nebraska. Shurna logged 40 minutes, while Crawford and Sobolewski played 38 each. Coach Bill Carmody used only six players, with Davide Curletti coming off the bench.

So how does it feel having played so much?

"Good, because we won," Crawford said. "We're hungry. We're excited for Sunday and to get back on the court to practice and win Sunday."

For NU to beat Illinois in Champaign Sunday, those three are going to need to stay fresh and not get gassed after halftime.

"I feel fine, there is no fatigue," Sobolewski said. "We're used to playing the whole game and the practices are starting to get shorter."

Bill Carmody mixes it up against Nebraska

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Bill Carmody has to try something a little different. With the Wildcats mired in a three-game losing streak -- the 'Cats haven't won since upsetting Michigan State on Jan. 14 -- and a depleted bench with injuries to guard JerShon Cobb and center Luka Mirkovic, Carmody decided to mix things up Thursday night against Nebraska at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Carmody started John Shurna at center instead of Davide Curletti and put Alex Marcotullio into the starting five as well. Hopefully the plan will work. NU is second to last in the Big Ten and needs to start winning these league games.

Pat Fitzgerald discusses the 2012 signees

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Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald started Wednesday's signing day news conference by insisting "we will start and end our recruiting in Chicago."

Joliet Catholic running back Malin Jones highlights the class, and he is joined by fellow Chicago area natives Joseph Jones of Plano (safety) and Wheaton Warrenville South's Dan Vitale (superback).

But don't forget Rockford Boylan's Dean Lowry (defensive end) and USC transfer Kyle Prater, a wide receiver who starred at Proviso West.

Even though ranked the Wildcats' class ninth in the Big Ten, Fitzgerald didn't seem to mind.

"This is similar to classes we recruited in the past," Fitzgerald said. "They're a great fit on each front, and if you look to the [Dan] Persa class and the [Jeremy] Ebert class I think they turned out to be alright."

This is the most signees of Fitzgerald's tenure at NU and also the first since he signed a 10-year contract extension in May 2011. That contract extension was unprecedented in NU athletics history, but Fitzgerald isn't sure -- or maybe is being coy -- if that had any effect on the 21 signees (including Prater).

"I don't know if I come up a lot, but a lot of discussion is about the program and the direction we are taking," Fitzgerald said.

The bottom line also doesn't seem to be about where the Wildcats are ranked among Big Ten teams and by what recruiting service. It doesn't seem to be about when facilities will be built or rennovated. And it doesn't seem to be about how long Fitzgerald is locked in at NU.

"Our team needs to win," he said.

And maybe this class can get it done.

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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