The Northwestern Wildcats did not arrive in Washington, D.C. for the Big Ten Tournament to rest on their laurels. In dismantling Rutgers, they came to play.
The Northwestern Wildcats were probably in. Their regular season should have been enough to get them into the Tournament.Things are never easy for the Wildcats, nor are they sure. Especially when Northwestern is travelling in unfamiliar territory.
Rutgers was the exact kind of los the old Northwestern would lose. The sure ticket given up with an inexplicable and frustrating defeat. it almost happened in Evanston nearly a month ago.
And Rutgers is a tricky team. The Scarlet Knights scored the upset of the tournament with the win over Ohio State in the first round. The Knights are an “any given day.
This was no their day. Not anywhere close.
The thoughts of Northwestern blowing their surefire day Sunday were completely thrown out the window. TheWildcats saw this speedbump and took a bulldozer to it.
It did not take long for it to happen. In the course of 11 minutes, Northwestern went on a 31-0 run to put the game completely out of reach.
It was dominant defensive performance that saw Rutgers struggling to get good shots, let alone make the few good looks the team had all game. The Scarlet Knights were only digging themselves deeper in the hole.
Northwestern was whipping the ball inside and out, driving to the basket with ease, throwing lobs to Victor Law and Dererk Pardon and getting open 3-pointers. A run like that does not simply just happen. It is the product of a lot of hard work and effort.
It is also the product of intensity and focus. The Wildcats were not losing this game. No way, no how. That bad loss blemish that could derail the dream season (or at least give them a poor seed) was not going to happen. Not here.
Northwestern came to Washington, D.C. not to rest on their laurels of their likely NCAA Tournament berth and record-setting season.
Northwestern made a statement in that 31-0 run. The Wildcats were not messing around. They are here to play.
There is a “it’s just Rutgers” sentiment here. The Scarlet Knights were the lowest seeded team in the tournament. But the Knights won two straight games had given plenty of teams trouble, including Northwestern. Going out and beating them in the first half so easily is a statement unto itself.
All of Northwestern’s stars showed up. Scottie Lindsey and Victor Law each scored 16 points. Bryant McIntosh had 13 points as the Wildcats shot 60.0 percent as a team.
Rutgers made some small pushes. But it was only to get the lead to 17. A quick timeout and some focus brought the lead back up. The second half was academic.
The real challenge for Northwestern is ahead. Maryland worked Northwestern in the team’s lone meeting in Evanston this year. And the Terrapins are decidedly better than the Knights.
But the Wildcats showed a professionalism and focus a lesser team easily could have lost.
In other words, Northwestern played like a tournament team. That is what the Wildcats are now. Without doubt. The question is whether they can be much more. Whether they can make noise this week . . . and next.
Northwestern showed a focus to do so in Thursday’s win. They did more than survive and advance. They pulverized and eliminated.
If Northwestern can play with that precision, focus and intensity against Maryland on Friday, the team has a chance to keep playing into the weekend and continue helping Northwestern reach unprecedented heights. The team has never reached the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament before.
This has been a year for firsts. And the team has given itself a chance to keep moving to new heights.
With the way Northwestern played Thursday, the team is certainly capable of doing so. And at least cemented that first step to playing next weekend.