Men’s Basketball: Wildcats stay focused for tough road matchup against Badgers


Annabel Edwards/Daily Senior Staffer

Sophomore guard Tre Demps, here holding off his Michigan State defender, has gained recognition for his clutch 3-pointers of late. Demps may be the team’s most improved player, and coach Chris Collins says his ability to break down defenses makes him a go-to leader on offense.

Bobby Pillote, Reporter

Despite the media frenzy surrounding Northwestern sports Tuesday, the basketball team concentrated on its upcoming game.

“I think right now everybody is just focused on playing Wisconsin,” sophomore guard Tre Demps said.

The Wildcats (10-11, 3-5 Big Ten) will certainly need to be prepared as they travel to Madison, Wis. to take on No. 14-ranked Badgers (17-3, 4-3). The game will mark the sixth time this month NU has faced a ranked opponent, a count that does not include now No. 10-ranked Michigan.

The Cats and Badgers last met on Jan. 2, when Wisconsin came to Welsh-Ryan Arena and delivered a 76-49 drubbing of NU in coach Chris Collins’ Big Ten debut.

“That first game was eye-opening for all of us,” Collins said. “Wisconsin came in here and showed what really high-level basketball was all about, so I’m interested to see how our guys can show how we’ve improved over the last month.”

Indeed, much has changed for the Cats in the seven games since. The team has picked up three conference victories and has shown a vastly improved defense that currently ranks 16th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency according to 

“We’ve had our ups. We’ve had our downs,” Collins said, “but we’ve gotten better from it.”

Despite the emergence of sophomore center Alex Olah, Demps is looking more and more like the most improved player on this still improving team. The late-game sharpshooter has gained adulation from fans for his clutch 3-point shots and has drawn praise from coaches for his hard work.

“(Demps) has always been a very confident player,” Collins said. “I love that attitude. … As the season has gone along, I just feel he’s gotten better and better. He’s learning how and when to pick and choose his spots, and when it comes down in a close game, he’s the guy we like to run our offense through because he has the ability to break defenses down.”

Demps played a hefty 26 minutes off the bench but scored only 4 points the last time NU played Wisconsin. The Cats will need more from their finisher to have any chance of pulling off the upset on the road.

“That’s probably one of the toughest places to play in the country,” Demps said. “But we feel confident with our group, that we have a resilient group of guys that’s going to fight.”

The Badgers quickly gained respect as one of the best teams in the nation this season by winning their first 17 games. But, they don’t seem quite so invincible after dropping three games in a row, including one on their home court, to fall to 17-3. Demps’ teammates echoed his confidence.

“We’re up for the challenge,” senior forward Drew Crawford said. “We know we had a tough loss to them in our first Big Ten game. … We want to make a better showing and really come in excited for this game.”

For his part, Collins also seems well prepared for the game.

“We try to draw on the fact that the last road game we played, we were successful,” he said. “I want them to be confident, I want them to play with no pressure. … In order to be successful and give yourself a chance, you can’t play tight. You can’t play nervous.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @BobbyPillote