Men’s Basketball: Cervantes: Collins poured his faith into Buie and Audige, Northwestern heads onto round of 32


Daily file photo by Angeli Mittal

Boo Buie dribbles the ball while staring down his defender. With Buie’s decision to return to Evanston, there is no doubt that the upcoming season for the Cats will be even more memorable.

Alex Cervantes, Senior Staffer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — This time last year, I had an article prepped on some of the coaches I’d tab as Chris Collins’ replacement.

Former Sports Editor Patrick Andres had charged himself, senior staffer Lawrence Price and I with preparing a multi-faceted series on the increasingly likely reality of Collins’ sacking. The team was left licking its wounds following a calamitous 36-point blowout at the hands of Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament. It seemed almost certain that the man who took the Wildcats to unforeseen heights would be axed in an unceremonious — and seemingly due — exit from Evanston.

The program was in disarray, a vision left idling in the storms of Big Ten basketball and a coach desperately searching for answers. Rock bottom couldn’t even really describe the current conditions the team was facing. 

Despite all signs pointing otherwise, NU’s athletic director, Derrick Gragg, extended Collins an olive branch: one more season to shift the course of this program.

And boy, did Collins provide a response, one which culminated in a near wire-to-wire display Thursday against Boise State as the Cats nabbed the program’s second-ever victory in the NCAA Tournament.

The win came on the backs of his senior captain duo — redshirt senior guard Chase Audige and senior guard Boo Buie — who have blossomed into one of the country’s best backcourt tandems. They poured in 42 points against the Broncos, a performance the pair can add to its increasing list of stellar displays this season. 

Their four years together in Evanston have been well-documented, characterized by some year-to-year improvement alongside Collins, but with many more losses than wins — nothing that indicated such a rapid ascension in, likely, their final season together.

As Audige sat on the bench during Buie’s freshman year, following his transfer from William & Mary, NU won just three games in Big Ten play. The next season, the pair helped the Cats double their conference win total — but still finished in the Big Ten’s basement. A year later, with some fairly high expectations in tow, NU sputtered — especially late in games — to a 15-16 (7-13 Big Ten) finish.

The duo has fielded countless questions about the direction of the program during its time in Evanston, including questions about the players’ own performances — the good, the bad and the ugly. And they did it once more ahead of the 2022-23 season, this time as captains. 

Entering what appeared to be Collins’ final campaign, there were more questions than answers about the NU squad. A lot was made of the offseason departures of Pete Nance and Ryan Young, and what the program would look like leaning so heavily on Buie and Audige’s production. Few people outside the confines of Welsh-Ryan Arena seemed to believe in the magic of the 2022-23 Cats. 

Little did everyone know what this group had in store. 

Nearly pulling off an upset over then-No. 13 Auburn in Cancún, Mexico, provided a small glimpse that NU could, and would, compete with some of the nation’s top teams. Then, Big Ten play rolled around. The Cats knocked over then-No. 20 Michigan State at the Breslin Center, picked up their first win against Illinois in four years, swept Indiana and scored the program’s first win against an AP No. 1 on Feb. 12, upsetting Purdue at home.

Those wins built an NCAA Tournament-worthy resume, and even after dropping four of its last five games, NU nabbed a 7-seed in the Big Dance. 

Which brings us to the present, with Collins, Buie and Audige fielding questions just 15 minutes after a complete performance against the Broncos. The quick turnaround from the buzzer sounding to the press conference is the reward for the victors. 

The sentiment from the trio is clear: The journey certainly hasn’t been smooth, but the process has paid off. Buie — the underrecruited guard whom Collins found by chance on a California recruiting trip — has become one of the nation’s best point guards. Audige — who has fought through injury and criticism in Evanston — has matured into one of the best defenders nationally and a legitimate two-way threat. 

Addressing a pool of reporters Thursday, both players attributed their growth to Collins’ unwavering belief in their future success. The coach gave Audige and Buie the keys, and after absorbing a few bumps along the way, NU now prepares for a clash with 2-seed UCLA in the round of 32.

Collins narrowly survived last season. Now, he’s advancing on college basketball’s largest stage alongside his two All-Big Ten guards.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

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The Daily Northwestern | From job on the line to Big Ten Coach of The Year: How Chris Collins led Northwestern to another historic season