No time to celebrate for Cats

Glenn Kasses

After Northwestern topped No. 14 Iowa on Saturday for its first Big Ten win in more than two years, assistant coach Craig Robinson sat in his seat and celebrated.

Unfortunately, that seat was in a car in Worcester, Mass.

Both Robinson and fellow assistant Paul Lee were out recruiting during the win, which ended NU’s 32-game regular-season conference losing streak, a modern record.

“If I was going to be out of town again,” Robinson said, “I’d have them send me the tape.”

Robinson was in Worcester for a two-day, 12-game high school event. Late Saturday afternoon, he got a call on his cell phone from a friend, who told him NU was up 26-24 at halftime, but that things were slipping – at one point, the Wildcats led by seven.

Robinson, sitting in the bleachers with a group of high school coaches, told his friend to call back every five minutes with updates. When the Cats made a 13-2 run to take the lead midway through the second half, Robinson started to get excited. And with only five minutes left, he gave up on the high school games entirely, instead staying on the phone for the rest of the NU contest.

“My battery was going dead,” Robinson explained, “so I went out to the car, plugged it in to the cigarette lighter and listened to the game from his TV.”

He wasn’t the only one to hear the news – when he returned to the event, Robinson said, everyone was high-fiving him.

“That was the talk of the whole gym: ‘Northwestern beat Iowa,'” Robinson said. “It’s good for the kids to see. You’re going to be recruiting those same kids, and you want to tell them that things are changing.”

The conference victory may have an impact on more than just the win column, the recruiting trail and Robinson’s cell phone bill. After last season’s 0-16 Big Ten campaign, four players transferred to other schools, and one more left the team. But the Cats’ steady improvement – as evidenced by their win Saturday – could help convince players to stay.

“With the exception of maybe one or two guys, I would (be surprised if people transferred),” said sophomore swingman Jason Burke, who chipped in eight vital points in a season-high 33 minutes Saturday. “I just say that because I see these guys every day and I know how they feel. We all talk and we share our feelings and everything. If I saw more than one or maybe two (leave), I’d be really surprised.”

With the win out of the way, the Cats (9-15, 1-10 Big Ten) may have to face an entirely new emotion Wednesday at Indiana – overconfidence.

Although some players acknowledged the possibility of going into Bloomington, Ind., thinking too highly of themselves, most were quick to dismiss the notion.

“I don’t think we’re going to come in overconfident,” freshman guard Jitim Young said. “We had a good win, but this is the Big Ten. These teams are hard to play. We’re learning now that we can play with any team and we can beat any team.”

Carmody was even more amused by the idea of his team walking into its next game mentally unprepared.

“We’ve won one game – no, you don’t worry about that,” Carmody said, sighing and tossing his head to the side. “Besides the fact that they’re so young, it’s just a team that knows they have to work hard to win anything and that there might not be another one down the road.”

Both players and coaches said Monday’s practice was the most heavily anticipated of the year, with the possible exception of Carmody’s first workout in the fall.

And overconfident or not, the Cats now are more ready for basketball than they have been in a long time. With five games left, there’s still a chance for NU to improve.

“I was real psyched for practice,” Robinson said. “But let’s face it – one game does not a Big Ten season make.”