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February 2013 Archives

Northwestern has played Ohio State tough in recent meetings, which is a trend coach Bill Carmody hopes will continue tonight when the No. 16 Buckeyes visit Welsh-Ryan Arena.

 Tipoff is at 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 and AM-560.

 Although a victory by the injury-ravaged Wildcats might be too much to ask, Carmody's team needs to turn in a competitive performance after losing its last three games by a combined 80 points.

 It all starts with point guard Dave Sobolewski, whose strugglessince Jared Swopshire was lost for the season with a knee injury mirrors the team.

"I told him after the game that I'm trying to help to put him in situations where he can be successful," Carmody said of Sobolewski. "He's a thinker. It's hard when you're in a little bit of a slump to bust out of it but he just has to go out there and play. He's a good basketball player. Sometimes your head can get in the way. He's trying to help other guys by thinking a couple steps ahead and you just have to go out there and play a little more loosely."

Sobolewski is averaging 10.2 points per game for the season but has scored just 12 points points in NU's last three games. He is also ranked fifth in the Big Ten with 5.9 assists per game.

Carmody said not having players such as Drew Crawford and Swopshire available allows defenses to focus on Sobolewski and senior Reggie Hearn.

"I do think on the scouting report now, he and Reggie are at the top of it," Carmody said. "Maybe when Drew was there and Swop was there they were three and four or four and five."

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald returns eight of 11 offensive starters this spring with seven more starters returning on defense, but there are still plenty of holes that will need to be filled this fall. "It's basically like taking apart a puzzle and when we put the puzzle back together on the board and we talk about it as coaches we've got some missing pieces because of graduation, so you have to put the puzzle back together and figure out where those pieces are and that's spring practice. That's where we're at right now. That's the biggest macro goal. What are the new pieces, what do they look like, what are their strengths, how can we put together a plan for the back half of spring and probably most important for fall camp is what do guys do well and how can we play to their strengths? "We've got a lot of pieces back, which is encouraging, more pieces than we've ever had, with experience. But we'll have to identify those new pieces and get it figured out." Fitzgerald also talked about what he expects from quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian next season. "The biggest aspect is the leadership component," he said. "They do a terrific job already but helping us take that next step --- I'm not trying to minimize getting to 10 wins but getting to No. 11 is a lot harder than getting to 10. That's our focus around here. What's happened in the past is in the past and how are we going to take the next step? A big part of that is leadership from the quarterback position. Both those guys are poised and ready to take that next step."

Improving chemistry was the theme when spring practice began last year and it remained so during the offseason. 

After fielding what he called the closest-knit  team since he has been a head coach, coach Pat Fitzgerald has shifted the emphasis elsewhere heading into spring practice this season.

He claims the Wildcats were five minutes, three seconds away from going undefeated in 2012 and wants his players to be reminded of that daily.

Players even have 5:03 printed on the back of their jerseys.

"We were 5:03 away from being undefeated," Fitzgerald said. "That's an incredible motivator. We looked hard at the reasons why that happened and it's one thing to talk about it and another thing to create those habits. So in all of our workouts we have created 5:03 worth of work. And it just doesn't come at the end of the workout; it can come at any time where we go into that phase where we need better focus, execution, technique, finish, communication ... There are a myriad of variables that created why we didn't finish those games that we very easily could have. We've taken the attitude that we'll find a way to make that up in the offseason."

Players appeared to be buying in after the first spring practice.

"That's a thing we started, we do 5:03 of a particular exercise to build team chemistry and build the building blocks so those 5:03 don't happen again and we can pull out those games we lost last season," safety Ibraheim Campbell said.

Here are a few other highlights from Fitzgerald's Wednesday presser:

On whether quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian will share snaps again next season: "Absolutely. I thought a year ago, the way [offensive coordinator] Mick [McCall] and our offensive staff were able to put together a plan to use both Kain's and Trevor's skill sets gave us a chance to win a championship. Now we just have to keep honing that package and making it better but both those guys can help us win."

Offensive linemen Matt Frazier, Paul Jorgensen, Jack Konopka, Alex Pietrzak and defensive linemen Deonte Gibson, and Will Hampton will not participate in team activities this spring because of physical maintenance issues, which often include minor offseason surgeries. It's the same for running back Michael Panico, wide receivers Kyle Prater and Andrew Scanlan, super back Jack Schwaba and defensive backs Nick VanHoose and Jarrell Williams.

"All of our guys will come back and be somewhere close to full go by the end of spring practice," Fitzgerald said. "Will they practice? No. But they'll be pretty close to being cleared completely medically, so when we go into the next phase, which is preparation for our summer, those guys will be full go, which is part of the reason we moved spring ball up."

Konopka is the likely starter at left tackle next season, replacing graduating senior Patrick Ward. Konopka moved from tight end to right tackle and played well last season.

"If we had to make a decision today, he'd probably be the left tackle," Fitzgerald said of Konopka. "But we'll see how that unfolds. The great news about him not being out there in the spring is we'll get to see some of these other guys who might not have gotten as many reps."

Pat Fitzgerald announced the football team's schedule for spring practice on Monday.

The Wildcats will convene on February 27 and will workout twice a week leading up to the spring scrimmage at Ryan Field on April 13. The time of the scrimmage has yet to be determined.

Fitzgerald also announced offensive linemen Matt Frazier, Paul Jorgensen, Jack Konopka, Alex Pietrzak and defensive linemen Deonte Gibson, and Will Hampton will not participate in team activities. It's the same for running back Michael Panico, wide receivers Kyle Prater and Andrew Scanlan, super back Jack Schwaba and defensive backs Nick VanHoose and Jarrell Williams.

A university spokesperson said those players will not participate because of physical maintenance issues such as offseason surgeries and all are expected to be ready for the start of fall camp.

Fitzgerald is expected to elaborate more on specific players when meeting with reporters on Wednesday morning.

Bill Carmody admits his team's confidence is waning, which is no surprise given what the injury-ravaged Wildcats have gone through this season.

Northwestern has lost five straight since senior forward Jared Swopshire became the latest player to be lost for the season because of an injury.The 'Cats have been outscored by a combined 80 points in their last three losses.

"It's wavering but we're trying to teach them and expose them," Carmody said during Monday's Big Ten Conference coaches' conference call. "I don't know. I have to think just playing and going through this is going to be better for them. Now that they're getting all these minutes, you would like to have some Lou Gehrig situation where all they needed  was a chance and now all of a sudden they start scoring 20 points per game but those things don't happen too often. I don't think it's happening with our guys but they are still pretty solid and getting better." 

Carmody has four freshmen among his top six players, all of which are trying to overcome learning curves in the nation's toughest conference.

Freshman Kale Abrahamson is a shooter who has struggled to create shots this season, for example. Carmody and his staff encouraged him to put the ball on the floor during Sunday night's 74-43 loss at Purdue and while he did, he used a jump stop almost exclusively, prompting Carmody to underline the importance of drawing contact.

It's the same with freshman center Alex Olah, who must be constantly reminded to dunk when finishing inside.

 "The guys have to stay together and be positive and for our staff I's the same thing. We have to point out the good things they are doing along with holding them accountable for what they're not doing well."

The Wildcats host Ohio State on Thursday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

If fans thought the first-half performance in Sunday night's loss to Illinois was tough to watch, well, Wednesday night's first half against Wisconsin was even worse.

This was historic, even.

Northwestern shot 21 percent and trailed 29-15 at halftime against Illinois.

They made 20 percent from the field against the Badgers and trailed 28-12 at the break. 

It was the lowest-scoring first half since Bill Carmody arrived 13 years ago, surpassing the 13 points the Wildcats scored in the first half of a 56-41 loss to llinois in 2002.

Northwestern will try to tie a school record by defeating a ranked opponent for the third time in a season when No. 19 Wisconsin (18-8 overall, 9-4 Big Ten) visits Welsh-Ryan Arena on Wednesday night.

It won't be easy. Not only are the injury-depleted Wildcats (13-13, 4-9) down to only seven scholarship players, but the Badgers have five wins over Top 25 teams this season.

"They are a veteran team," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody told reporters Tuesday. That's the scariest part. They have three seniors and a junior. That scares me."

Carmody will counter with four freshman among the top six in his rotation.

"I'm going to coach them hard, my staff is going to coach them hard, we're going to hold them accountable but I have to keep them positive because I know they're pretty good players and right now they have to do a little more," Carmody said while talking about how he is approaching his young roster.

Jared Berggren leads Wisconsin in scoring (11.8 points per game), is second in rebounding (6.9) and needs two blocks to tie the school record of 124 career blocks.

The Badgers led the nation in scoring defense last season and are ranked 11th this year.

Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network and on WGN AM-720

Freshman center Alex Olah played 21 minutes against Illinois after recovering from a concussion that sidelined him during Thursday's loss at Ohio State.

Olah played 21 minutes and had three rebounds and five points.

"He went through the whole concussion thing," Carmody said. "He has to be symptom free, he has take the baseline test, pass that, be symptom free for 24 or 48 hours, an outside doctor has to clear him and our doctor checks him again to see if he's OK. Once he's cleared, you can work out non-contact for a day. Basically, just on the bike and doing some sprints and stuff like that to see if he is symptom free. That was the case with Alex. He was cleared Saturday afternoon. He came to practice late but he came."

Carmody said Olah has fully recovered.

"I thought Mike Turner did a good job [Sunday] night," Carmody said of the player who filled in for Olah at center. "He rebounded pretty well. He did OK. I feel good about that spot."

Bill Carmody addressed several topics in Monday's Big Ten Coaches' Conference call, including Sunday night's loss to Illinois.

"Illinois came in here and really outplayed us from the get-go," the Northwestern coach said. "We still have to regroup and go from here. We've got Wisconsin, who is playing well, and they play differently than Illinois, who plays differently from Ohio State. We just have to get our young guys to really understand the scouting report and try to go out there and win the game."

Carmody when asked about all the freshmen contributing around the conference: "I had four freshman out of my top six guys out there. You have to coach them hard and you have to hold them accountable but they're freshman, so you can play pretty well at Ohio State as freshmen and then come in and not play well last night but you have to keep them up and positive so they can continue to grow. Across the league, there are some very good freshmen. Michigan has a couple freshmen there but since they have veterans who are their star players or productive players not as much is expected of the guys and it's a little easier. But all across you're seeing freshmen have a really good game and get 16 and then they'll get two But most of the guys, this one-and-done stuff, I don't see too much of that, so for the future I think the league is really on solid ground personnel-wise."

Here's what Carmody had to say about redshirt freshman Tre Demps, who had eight points against the Illini.

"He can shoot the ball," Carmody said."He drives it pretty well.He has got to get minutes so he can play and recognize all the things he has to do because last night, for instance, I went back and watched the tape and --- not just Tre, all the young guys --- some of the principles of defense got away from us last night on picks and rolls and hedging and all those things. Plus, he's a pretty strong kid with good legs. He's got to get on the backboards. But he's a tireless worker in the gym and he's going to get better and better. Now, he just has to get the experience. I don't even know if it's maturation or experience or exactly what the word is, but he's going to be pretty good."

Northwestern's basketball program received more bad news Tuesday when it was announced that senior forward Jared Swopshire underwent surgery on his right knee and will miss the remainder of the season.

 Swopshire injured his knee attempting a layup in the second half of Saturday's loss at Iowa.

It was the second season-ending surgery for a player critical to Northwestern's bid to earn the program's first NCAA Tournament berth. Senior Drew Crawford underwent season-ending shoulder surgery earlier this season.

 Unlike Crawford, who will apply for a fifth season of eligibility, Swopshire will see a career that included a trip to the Final Four with Louisville last season come to a close.

"We all feel badly for Jared that he won't be able to play out the remainder of his final collegiate season," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "He has been a terrific addition to the program, both on and off the court. He was enjoying a very productive year and was playing his most consistent basketball of the season when the injury occurred. There is every indication that he'll experience a full recovery."

Swopshire started all 24 games this season and was averaging 9.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. His average of 7.5 rebounds in Big Ten play ranks fifth in the league. His 6.7 rebounds is the highest average by a Northwestern player since Evan Eschmeyer averaged 10.1 per contest during the 1998-99 season.

Swopshire scored a career-high 22 points against Mississippi Valley State on Nov. 15 while grabbing a career-best 16 boards at Nebraska on Jan. 26. The 16 rebounds were the most by a Northwestern player since Eschmeyer had 21 against Penn State on Jan. 20, 1999.

The Wildcats are also expected to be without center Alex Olah (concussion) when they play at Ohio State on Thursday. 

Bill Carmody was still waiting for the final word from the medical staff, but the Northwestern coach said he doesn't expect forward Jared Swopshire (knee) or center Alex Olah (concussion) to be available when the Wildcats travel to Ohio State on Thursday night.

Both players were injured in Sunday's loss at Iowa. Olah sustained a blow to the head and was taken to the locker room immediately, where a baseline test confirmed he had suffered a concussion, according to Carmody.

Swopshire injured his knee while attempting a layup a few minutes later.

"Some times guys are experienced and are average but he has really started to influence games the last  few weeks and be more aggressive," the Northwestern coach said of Swopshire. "He has been our leading rebounder and a real presence out there.

Swopshire was averaging 9.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game for the 'Cats. He will be replaced by freshman Kale Abrahamson. James Montgomery III will also likely see increased minutes.

"Kale can make some shots," Carmody said. "Now he's going to have to rebound more because Swopshire isn't out there and Alex isn't out there."

Mike Turner has been logging most of the minutes as the backup center but is only 6-foot-8. Junior forward Nikola Cerina has been slow to recover from an ankle injury but the 6-9 junior will need to step into a much larger role with Olah sidelined.

"The problem with Mike is he's undersized and he has been in foul trouble," Carmody said. "He has this tendency to foul guys a lot and that's a little scary."

Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald said playing games at Wrigley Field will only help him on the recruiting trail.

"We're trying to win a Big Ten and national championship and to have that attraction in recruiting where we can give young man the unique experience no one else can sell along with everything we already have was something that was very appealing to myself and my staff," Fitzgerald said. "We're talking to kids we'll see in future signing days and saying, 'We're going to be playing in Wrigley Field.'"

Northwestern held a joint press conference with the Cubs on Tuesday to announce a flexible five-year business partnership that could see Northwestern play as many as five games at Wrigley Field, most likely starting in 2014.

The NU baseball team will host Michigan at Wrigley on April 20. In 2014, the women's lacrosse team will host Notre Dame with opportunities for other sports to compete in the iconic venue in future years.

"For us to have an opportunity to play in this stadium, I don't think it gets any better," NU baseball coach Paul Stevens said.

A renovation of Wrigley Field will allow for a regulation football field, which wasn't the case when Northwestern and Illinois played in the former Bears home in 2010.

The Big Ten decided the day before that game to use only one end zone for offense because of safety concerns. NCAA rules mandate there must be adequate space surrounding the playing surface, which wasn't the case in the east end zone, which was within a few feet of the right-field wall.

Kenney said the Cubs have a short-term solution that includes moving a dugout roof, which would allow for a 12-foot perimeter around the field, satisfying NCAA safety requirements.

That said, it's unlikely the Wildcats will play at Wrigley Field in 2013 for a variety of reasons. Northwestern athletics director Jim Phillips said the Big Ten's recent addition of two new members complicates future schedules and makes 2014 a better target date.

Wrigley will host football games in November, after the Cubs season ends.

The Northwestern baseball team will host Michigan at Wrigley Field April 20, the seven-time national champion women's lacrosse team in 2014 and the soccer or softball teams following in 2015.

"This will be our home and we will select who we play against," Phillips said when asked if Illinois could be an annual football opponent. "There's not going to be any school we just write in and say we're going to play them every year in the place. We want different opponents, honestly. We'd like to meet a variety of Big Ten opponents at Wrigley eventually."

Northwestern has struggled to score this season, including from the free-throw line.

The Wildcats are ranked 10th in the Big Ten with a .655 team free-throw percentage.

"I've gotten a lot of different emails and suggestions from plumbers and ditch diggers and politicians and everybody else," coach Bill Carmody said.

The Wildcats took Sunday off after Saturday's 15-point win over Purdue at Welsh-Ryan Arena. They will do some shooting today, will work on special situations on Tuesday and Wednesday before beginning preparations for Saturday's game at Iowa.

"You get in the gym and you work at it and make sure you cover yourself [so] there's nothing technically wrong with what you're doing at the foul line like coming off the line or leaning backwards or anything like that," Carmody said. "If you feel pretty good about that after watching yourself on tape it's a confidence thing."

Point guard Dave Sobolewski is making only .579 percent from the stripe, which is puzzling since he's one of the team's better shooters. He missed three straight after the Wildcats cut Michigan's lead to nine in Wednesday's loss.

 "Some guys that are bad shooters, I don't expect them to shoot very well," Carmody said. "Guys that are good shooters, you take care of what you take care of and you have to be confident when you step to the line."

Bill Carmody said freshman center Chier Ajou will sit out the rest of the season with a knee injury and will apply for a medical redshirt.

Ajou has played a total of 30 minutes in seven games this season and had eight points and four rebounds.

A native of South Sudan and a cousin of Bulls All-Star forward Luol Deng, the 7-foot-2 Ajou averaged 14 points, nine rebounds and 2.6 blocks for St. Thomas More (Conn.) last season.

"He's had knee problems for the whole year so he can do very little," Carmody said. "He can run but not very fast and then his knee swells up." 

Northwestern will hold a joint press conference with the Cubs on Tuesday where they are expected to announce multiple future football games will be played at Wrigley Field as well as an ongoing business partnership between the team and the university.

No games are expected to be schedule in 2013. Expanding Wrigley Field so it can house a regulation football field is expected to be part of the Cubs' renovation plan.

The last time Northwestern played in Wrigley Field in 2010, the Big Ten decided the day before the game to use only one end zone for offense because of safety concerns. NCAA rules state that there must be adequate space surrounding the playing surface, which wasn't the case in the east end zone, which is within a few feet of the right-field wall.

Four new inductees into the Northwestern Athletic Hall of Fame were announced at Saturday's game against Purdue at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

They include honorary inductee Pat Ryan, the former chairman of the Northwestern Board of Trustees. The founder of AON Corporation has been a generous donor through the years.

Swimmer Matt Grevers, a six-time Olympic medalist, Garland Cooper, who was named Big Ten Player of the Year in softball three times, and four-time All-American lacrosse player Kristen Kjellman will also be inducted.

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