Northwestern (19-13) at Washington (22-10)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, March 16, 10:00 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Alaska Airlines Arena (10,000) -- Seattle, Washington. Television: ESPNU. NIT Record: Northwestern 5-6, Washington 4-5. Series Record: Washington leads, 5-2.
GAME NOTES: The Northwestern Wildcats and the Washington Huskies will each try to take another step closer to Madison Square Garden, as the two squads collide at Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle tonight in the second round of the 2012 National Invitation Tournament.
Both of these squads were spurned by the NCAA Tournament selection committee but managed to produce wins in the first round of this event. Washington has won five of seven previous meetings with Northwestern, but the last clash took place in 1975 where the Huskies claimed a 70-57 win.
Northwestern just couldn't seem to get that signature win to push it over the top and into it's first NCAA Tournament all time, and was hurt by a first- round exit in the Big Ten Tournament. During the regular season, the Wildcats were 18-12 but with a win against Akron and the loss in the conference tournament now sits at 19-13 as one of two No. 4 seeds in the tournament.
Washington made history this year but not in a good way. The Huskies won the Pac-12 Conference regular-season title with a 14-4 league ledger, but were upset by Oregon State in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. So when Selection Sunday came and went without an invite, they became the first team from a power conference to win a regular-season title and not get a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies appeared dejected in the first-round clash with Texas-Arlington, but the top seed in the tournament woke up and pulled out the win.
Northwestern had to hold off a late charge from MAC regular-season champion Akron in the first round of the NIT. The Wildcats led by as many as 15 in the game but found the score knotted 73-73 with just under two minutes to play. NU then turned yet again to John Shurna who drained a three-pointer to put the Wildcats ahead. The Zips still trailed when Quincy Diggs was fouled with four seconds left. Diggs made the first free throw and then intentionally missed the second, the offensive rebound going to Alex Abreu who missed a decent look from three-point range to allow the Wildcats to escape with the thrilling victory.
During his four seasons at Northwestern, Shurna has been one of the most consistent and skilled players in the Big Ten. In the win over Akron, Shurna hit a jumper with 6:25 remaining in the first half to become the 27th player in Big Ten history to reach the 2,000-point plateau for his career. The senior forward (Big Ten-leading 19.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, .431 three-point FG percentage) had 23 points and 11 rebounds against Akron for his first double-double of the season. Pairing with Shurna this year has been Drew Crawford (16.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg) who is a strong scorer in his own right and was sensational in the first round, pouring in 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting, while JerShon Cobb (7.1 ppg) put in 19 points for his third straight game in double figures after he missed the bulk of the season due to injury. As a team, Northwestern doesn't normally win by a large margin (69.7 ppg to (68.0 ppg), although it was the best passing team (15.6 apg) in the league this year, while turning in the worst rebounding effort (29.3 rpg).
Washington led by as many as 12 points in the first half but still allowed Texas-Arlington back into the game with things all tied up at 37-37 at the break. The first 10 minutes of the second half went back and forth, but the Huskies eventually took control by shooting 68.4 percent from the floor and connecting on 15-of-24 attempts from the free-throw line in the second period to pick up the 10-point win.
Terrence Ross was the go-to guy for the Huskies against Texas-Arlington, taking six more shots than anyone else on the team while scoring 23 points. Ross (15.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg) is one of three players averaging at least 14 ppg for the Huskies this season, and he has been a strong rebounder as well. Freshman guard Tony Wroten (16.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.8 apg) played well beyond his years this season, finishing as the third-highest scorer in the Pac-12 but took on more of a distributing role in the first round of this event, as he scored only nine points while handing out nine assists. C.J. Wilcox (14.0 ppg) is the third major scorer for the Huskies, while Abdul Gaddy (8.1 ppg, 5.0 apg) leads the team in assists and seven-footer Aziz N'Diaye (8.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg) paces the club on the boards. Washington was the second-highest scoring team in the Pac-12 this season (75.4 ppg) and will be glad to see such a weak rebounding squad in the second round as the Huskies finished the year ranked seventh in Division I in rebounding (39.9 rpg).
Washington proved that it is still a strong team despite looking as if it's rejection from the NCAA Tournament was still weighing on the Huskies in the first half against Texas-Arlington. Northwestern is a bit too one-dimensional with it's reliance on Shurna. All that said, expect UW to prevail thanks in part to another dominating performance on the glass.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Washington 73, Northwestern 65
03/16 10:36:50 ET