Northwestern looks to secure quality bowl


Northwestern looks to secure quality bowl

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) In line for a quality bowl, Northwestern has its ticket out and ready to be punched.

That would appear to be little more than a formality for the Wildcats with a home game against Illinois on Saturday, except they know better. They know all about their recent history against the Illini, and it's not good.

That explains why they're just a little apprehensive about Saturday's game, no matter how poor the Illini are playing.

``There is no question this is a huge rivalry,'' coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

And there's no debate, either, that his team has come up short against Illinois the past two years.

Now, Northwestern (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten) appears to be in a good spot after beating Michigan State 23-20 and shaking off a brutal overtime loss at Michigan. That's something the Illini (2-9, 0-7) can't say. The free fall that began after a 6-0 start under Ron Zook last season still is going strong under new coach Tim Beckman with eight straight losses overall and 13 in a row in conference play.

The way they've struggled, it's hard to believe Illinois was a Top 25 team fighting for bragging rights in Chicago when these teams met a year ago. Yet, the memory lingers.

Northwestern hasn't forgotten.

The Wildcats wanted to avenge a 21-point beating at Wrigley Field in 2010. Instead, they left Champaign with a 38-35 loss after the Illini wiped out an 18-point deficit and rallied again to win when Nathan Scheelhaase squirmed into the end zone from a half yard with 13 seconds left, capping a wild week and setting off quite a scene after the game.

There was Scheelhaase standing near midfield, holding the Land of Lincoln trophy - a replica of Abe Lincoln's hat - as ``Sweet Home Chicago'' blared over the PA system. It was a clear response to Northwestern claiming to be Chicago's Big Ten team, and it came after a week of wrangling between the schools over that issue.

``It was definitely a tough loss,'' Northwestern safety Ibraheim Campbell said. ``It was a game that we thought we should have won. It was just a series of bad events. It hurt a lot.''

At that moment, the Illini were flying high.

They were 5-0 and ranked 24th, poised to move up five spots in the poll. A week later, they beat Indiana and jumped to No. 16 before everything crashed.

They dropped six in a row, costing Zook his job, before scratching out a six-point win over UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, and things have been no better this year.

``At this point it doesn't matter what we've done as far as not playing the way we've wanted to,'' Scheelhaase said. ``And for them, it doesn't matter the successes they've had. It comes down to you've got to win this one game because it means a lot for pride, for I'm sure recruiting, just to be able to put your stamp on how you walked out of the season.''

The Illini rank last in the Big Ten in scoring offense and second-to-last in scoring defense, and this nightmare of a season can't end soon enough for a fan base wondering if Beckman is the right man for the job.

``I just know what I see on tape, and I see a very talented football team,'' Fitzgerald said.

He touted center Graham Pocic and left tackle Hugh Thornton as NFL prospects along with defensive end Michael Buchanan and defensive tackles Akeem Spence and Glenn Foster. He praised Scheelhaase as well as running backs Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson.

Yet he also realizes the teams are in different places at the moment, particularly Illinois. The Illini came up short again last week, falling by three to Purdue.

``We moved right to the football team upstate,'' said Beckman, who has made a point of not saying ``Northwestern'' since he was hired. ``They're a very, very good football team, a very, very good program. Coach Fitz has done a great job up there.''

While the Illini continue to struggle, Northwestern is in a good spot despite some gut-wrenching losses.

The Wildcats blew a double-digit lead at Penn State, couldn't protect a 12-point edge in the fourth quarter against Nebraska and lost in OT at Michigan after a leaping Roy Roundtree tipped and caught a 53-yard pass near the end of regulation to set up the tying field goal for the Wolverines.

Last week, the defense came through down the stretch and forced four turnovers in the game.

Now, Fitzgerald could tie Lynn Waldorf's school record with 49 wins, and the Wildcats could be in for a big payoff if they get past Illinois. The only Big Ten teams with more wins are Ohio State and Nebraska, and the Buckeyes are ineligible for postseason play.

``It's pretty simple,'' Fitzgerald said. ``We win, we open up the opportunity for some neat stuff. Bottom line is we've got to go 1-0 this week and all the other things will take care of itself.''

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Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Following their seventh loss in 11 games and another lackluster performance in key areas, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks reverted back to a critique that characterized many defeats months ago. He called into question the effort of his team, more specifically their urgency. How they could overlook the stakes at this point of the season and with so much on the line had escaped him.

Brooks wasn't pleased following Washington's 108-100 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. He didn't like their three-point defense, their inability to force turnovers and their lack of zip on offense. But overall, it was the apparent lack of realization that time is running out in the regular season and off-nights cannot be afforded.

"We have to play with more spirit [and] we have to take some pride in our home court," Brooks said. "We’re building our habits going into the playoffs and these are moments where we need to take advantage because it’s playoff implications in every game."


Pride is something Brooks has referenced after the Wizards' worst defeats since he took over. This one didn't qualify, as they only lost by eight points and had opportunities late to write a different ending. But they were playing a team fighting for their own playoff position in the opposite conference and for the most part did not match their intensity.

The Nuggets, to put it plainly, are among the worst defensive teams in basketball. They were missing their leading scorer, Gary Harris. And they tightened their rotation to just eight players.

Yet the Wizards only managed 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers. Aside from their 33-point third quarter, the Wizards' offense was effectively stalled. 

"We can’t have guys that are not going to participate with hard cuts and hard setups and good screens. We need everybody. It’s not one person, it’s all," Brooks said.


The Wizards only forced 10 turnovers on the Nuggets and only three in the first half. That held back their offense in the sense they had few opportunities for fastbreak buckets.

"That’s where we get most of our offense from anyways, getting stops, getting out in transition," forward Otto Porter said.

The Wizards have lost two straight games. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers and Pacers both won on Friday night.

The Wizards are sixth place in the East and just 1 1/2 games out of fourth, but there is a huge difference in those spots. Sixth could mean meeting the Cavs in the first round and they have won three straight since Kevin Love returned from injury.


The Cavaliers could quickly become the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference. Their record is deceiving due to Love's injury and they still boast LeBron James, the best player on the planet. No one can control a playoff series quite like he can.

An argument could be made the Wizards would be better off moving down than up, as the seventh spot would match them up with the injury-riddled Boston Celtics. The Wizards are just 1 1/2 games ahead of the seventh-seed Miami Heat.

The Wizards, though, would prefer to move up and they still have a chance to get into fourth, which would mean home court advantage.

John Wall will return at some point, likely soon. In the short-term, Brooks would like to some urgency and for his team to get back to the trademark ball movement that allowed them to go 10-3 in their first 13 games when Wall went down.

"We can get it back, but it’s not going to come back. We have to go get it. It’s time to do it; it’s time," Brooks said.

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Game 75 Capitals at Canadiens Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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Game 75 Capitals at Canadiens Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens

Where: Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Canadiens will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington.

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


The Capitals (43-24-7) take on the Canadiens (27-36-12) Saturday, March 24 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Montreal.


The Capitals-Canadiens game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. for postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals at Canadiens
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime


You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.