Men’s Basketball: Wildcats hope upset wave crashes through Minnesota

Rohan Nadkarni, Reporter

Not satisfied with falling behind its football counterpart, the Northwestern men’s basketball team made some history of its own this week.

Now the challenge is following it up.

The Wildcats (11-11, 4-5 Big Ten), fresh off their first ever win in the Kohl Center against No. 14 Wisconsin, will hit the road again to take on Minnesota (15-6, 4-4) on Saturday.

“It was definitely a great night for us,” coach Chris Collins said of NU’s win. “Especially the way we got hammered our first three (conference) games, to be able to fight back and forge a new identity, it shows a lot about how tough our guys have become.”

The Cats’ fabled “new identity” as a defensive team will face a challenging test in the Golden Gophers.

Minnesota’s offense is much more prolific than NU’s. The Golden Gophers average 75.5 points per game. And Minnesota is hard to beat at Williams Arena, where the team sports an impressive 12-1 record.

Senior Drew Crawford feels confident that the Cats’ defensive intensity will travel to Minneapolis.

“We’ve embraced (defense) since day one,” the forward said. “We hit a moment in the season when it clicked for us. We got that blue-collar mentality we’ve been working toward all year. It’s finally going for us now.”

The Cats should enter the game as the hotter team.

NU has won four of its last six, including two upsets over teams ranked in the top-25. The upset potential of Collins’ squad is being realized nearly every night, as the Cats have hung around for most of every game, starting with their win over Illinois.

The Golden Gophers’ conference season has been mostly up and down. They’ve alternated win and losses in every game since Jan. 8. Minnesota fell to Nebraska on the road in its last outing but also claimed its own upset over the Badgers on Jan. 22.

The recent surge in NU’s performance, compared to Minnesota’s topsy-turvy conference slate, could give the Cats an edge in confidence headed into Saturday’s matchup.

“Confidence is huge for us,” Crawford said. “We’ve had our offensive struggles this year. When we’re able to stop teams, when you’re getting stops and buying in together, that’s where we get our confidence.”

Shooting was key for the Cats in their upset over Wisconsin, but an increase in pace or scoring shouldn’t be expected any time soon. Collins reiterated at practice Thursday that he doesn’t “want to get in a track meet” to help keep his players fresh.

Interestingly, even with the need for fresh players, Collins didn’t call the number of junior Dave Sobolewski on Wednesday. The point guard didn’t play at all in his second game back after a concussion. NU won three of four games without him in the lineup.

“I just felt the way the game was going, our guys were playing really well,” Collins said of keeping Sobolewski on the bench. “Because it was a slower-paced game, I didn’t sense the guys were fatigued. He needs to stay ready. There’s a great chance he gets called upon Saturday.”

With the Cats’ recent uptick in success, it was only a matter of time before postseason whispers grew louder. Crawford tried deflecting attention off the matter Thursday.

“We’re just taking it day by day,” the senior said. “In past years, I’ve thought about it a little bit. This year, it’s on the back burner. We’re just focusing on winning each game we play.”

Bobby Pillote contributed reporting

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