Men’s Basketball Notebook: Ahead of Saturday’s second-round clash against UCLA, Northwestern treads carefully


Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer

Graduate student forward Tydus Verhoeven jumps for a rebound. Ahead of Northwestern’s second-round matchup against UCLA, Verhoeven spoke to reporters Friday stressing the team’s importance to improve its effort on the boards.

Aayushya Agarwal, Senior Staffer

Coming off of a well-rounded victory over Boise State to open the tournament, Northwestern now looks to get past the second-round for the first time in program history. The Cats cruised during the majority of the contest, and within a few hours, were matched up with UCLA — a talented team that had the most comprehensive victory of any team that played Thursday.

Speaking to a pool of reporters Friday afternoon, coach Chris Collins acknowledged the tall task facing his team. Nevertheless, he stressed the extra work the Cats have spent watching replays and preparing for one of the best teams in the country.

This season’s Cats are regularly compared to the 2017 team, which made a first appearance for the Wildcats at an NCAA Tournament. If this year’s team wants to surpass its reputation, it will need to clear the UCLA hurdle on Saturday and reach the Sweet Sixteen.

Here are three takeaways from Friday’s media availability:


1. The Cats will utilize past close defeats in preparation for UCLA

Despite NU recently enduring a few heartbreaking losses that came down to the final possessions, the team still recorded 21 regular season wins — including a program-best 12 conference wins. Collins and his players said the team will use tough defeats earlier in the season as motivation for tomorrow’s contest against UCLA.

Notably, the Cats suffered a disparaging overtime loss to Penn State exactly a week ago that cut their chance to win the Big Ten Tournament on their very first day. Sophomore guard Brooks Barnhizer highlighted the team’s ability to move past nail biting losses like those..

“(Last week’s loss) made a point to us that every day is a new day,” Barnhizer said. “We’ve lost two really close, hard fought battles against Penn State, but that doesn’t mean that the next one isn’t going to be a win. Our message was that we’ve got to be persistent. We have such a good opportunity to come to the NCAA tournament and show what we’re about.”

2. Collins expects another down-to-the-wire matchup Saturday against UCLA.

He said the team can best replicate techniques used in past close games to succeed in potential pivotal late moments tomorrow.

“Those experiences all help — close games, needing stops at the end of the game, needing a way to get baskets at the end of games,” Collins said. “All those things, good and bad, you learn from those experiences and you move forward and apply them as you get into those next situations.”

The Cats do not want to make the game “bigger than it is”

While the Cats face many historical programs each year in the Big Ten, competing against any top team is not something to take for granted. Despite the Bruins having a far greater level of experience in the NCAA tournament than the Cats, the team can continue utilizing lessons from the season.

“When you get to this point, and you’re in the second round of the tournament, you lean on your experience,” Collins said. “The level that we played in the Big Ten, who we faced, where we had to play — we’ve played in a lot of big venues this year on the road. Hopefully, we can draw upon that experience when (we) play UCLA.”

While Collins acknowledges the significance of this game not just for this year but for the program as a whole, he stressed the importance to his players of the need to treat tomorrow’s contest like any other game.

Though he said getting into the tournament itself is difficult, it’s even harder to win once the team’s there.

“I don’t want them to make it more than it is — it’s still basketball,” Collins said. “It’s a 40-minute game, when the ball goes up, you’ve got to do the things you’ve done throughout the course of the year.”

Senior forward Robbie Beran shared Collins’ mindset. Beran is one of the more experienced players, yet he nor the rest of the team have made an NCAA Tournament appearance before.

The same cannot be said for many Bruins players that his team will face tomorrow. Nevertheless, Beran understands the importance of not making the moment too big.

“When the ball goes up, (the perspective) is in the moment,” Beran said. “It’s five-on-five, or Northwestern versus UCLA. We’re just trying to focus on the game and not try to look like how that will affect the legacy of the program.”

3. Rebounding an emphasis for NU on Saturday

If there was one aspect the Cats struggled with Thursday, it would have to be their performance on the glass. NU struggled to corral defensive rebounds, allowing Boise State to make extra possessions. The Cats allowed 20 offensive rebounds, which subsequently translated to 20 Broncos second-chance points. With UCLA being a strong offensive rebounding team, the Cats know they will need to address this component if they want to survive in the tournament.

In particular, graduate student forward Tydus Verhoeven stressed the importance of surrendering fewer offensive rebounds, admitting that the front court will need to be extra mindful of this when matching up tomorrow against the Bruins.

“They’re one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation, so you have to box out,” Verhoeven said. “We’ve really worked on cleaning up our box outs and being more physical on the boards. Against a team like that, you can’t let them get free runs off rebounding because that’s one of their strengths.”

At the same time, junior center Matthew Nicholson took ownership for the team’s inability to corral defensive rebounds on Thursday.

Nevertheless, the center acknowledged the collective effort that will be required to limit the number of extra possessions NU surrenders Saturday.

“I take a lot of credit for that,” Nicholson said. “We’ve got to work on getting more defensive rebounds and not letting up as many offensive rebounds. A lot of us have to work towards getting more defensive rebounds, (through) boxing out, hitting someone — but we’ll get it done.”

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