Big Ten

After loss to Illini, Northwestern tasked with making sure defeats don't snowball

After loss to Illini, Northwestern tasked with making sure defeats don't snowball

EVANSTON — There was no sense of dread emanating from Chris Collins following Northwestern's loss to Illinois on Tuesday night.

But the head coach on the brink of getting the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament for the first time ever voiced his team's disappointment.

"Got a full month of the season left. Like I told the guys, it's a long year. A lot of ebbs and flows, ups and downs," Collins said. "Tonight wasn't a great night, a lot of disappointed faces in the locker room. But we've got to just keep playing, keep plugging along. Get ready for the next one."

This is exactly what Collins didn't want to happen.

Following last week's loss at Purdue — an excusable defeat even if it was a lopsided one — Collins said his team needed to "stop the bleeding." It's not something you typically worry about after one loss, especially one that was immediately preceded by a six-game winning streak. But Collins has been here before. In his first three seasons, losing streaks of seven and 10 plus a stretch featuring eight losses in 10 games have torpedoed his team during conference play.

Out to a 7-3 start to league play this season and firmly established as one of the top four teams in the Big Ten, one of those stretches didn't seem possible. Then came Tuesday's loss to Illinois, one of the Big Ten's basement-dwellers, and the nervous eyes might have started darting around Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Sure, Northwestern was again without leading scorer Scottie Lindsey, something that obviously caused a huge amount of problems considering the team shot just 33.9 percent from the field.

As Collins said just one day prior, he knows how quickly momentum can change in the Big Ten. The task was not allowing one loss to become two. Now it's not allowing two losses to become three or four, something that's a much bigger challenge considering the next two opponents are Wisconsin and Maryland, two of the top three teams in the league.

"I think the guys were good in the locker room. We've got a good bunch in the locker room," Collins said. "They're down, obviously. They put a lot into this game and wanted to win and get back on that winning track. It didn't happen. They were saying the right things. We've got to keep playing.

"In this league it's crazy. We can look at games all the time. Everyone is good, so if you don't play well, you could lose to anyone. There's a million examples of that already this year. We feel we can compete."

After Tuesday's loss, Collins expressed the need for his team to play smarter. He lamented the 14 turnovers — and specifically the five of them over the final three minutes — and possessions that ended in less-than-ideal shots.

From watching the Cats the past two outings, though, it seems what they need even more is to get Lindsey back. Collins talked about Lindsey's absence putting more pressure on Bryant McIntosh, who while scoring a combined 43 points against Purdue and Illinois also missed a combined 22 shots in those games. McIntosh also turned the ball over six times. Vic Law bounced back well enough after going 0-for-7 with one point against Purdue, but he was an inefficient 5-for-14 against Illinois.

"You take 16 points out of the lineup, there's going to be more on those guys," Collins said. "The whole game plan (for the opposing team) is to try to stop two guys without Scottie."

It might sound a little obvious that Northwestern could use its leading scorer back in the lineup. After shooting a combined 39.8 percent against the Boilers and Illini, it doesn't matter how obvious it sounds. It's critical.

There's just one problem: "I don't know how long Scottie's going to be out."

And so the mental challenges begin. Collins has refused to count his chickens before they hatch, refused to accept this is the year Northwestern finally gets an invite to the Big Dance because he's a veteran of season-altering losing streaks during his time in Evanston. Now more than ever, the Cats need to avoid another one of those. Or the season of dreams could suddenly turn into a nightmare.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately


Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal


Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.