SALT LAKE CITY — So often this season, Vic Law has been so important for Northwestern.
And in the team's biggest game to date, Law will once again be key.
The question, though, after Thursday's win over Vanderbilt that advanced Northwestern to a Saturday showdown against Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA tournament, is how big of a role Law will play.
Law struggled shooting the ball against the Commodores, scoring just two points on 1-for-8 shooting. He also missed the front end of a 1-and-1 set of free throws late in the game that looked like it had the potential to be disastrous for the Wildcats.
Law's shooting struggles have popped up again and again throughout the season. In his last two games — a Big Ten Tournament loss to Wisconsin and Thursday's win over Vanderbilt — Law is 3-for-16 from the field with six points. In the regular-season finale against Purdue, he was 2-for-13 from the field. During an eight-game stretch in January and February, Law shot a nasty 22.7 percent (17-for-75), and Northwestern lost five of those eight games.
So after surviving against the Commodores without Law producing on the offensive end, expect the Cats to try and get him heavily involved in a win-or-go-home game against a top-seeded Gonzaga team.
"I think it's important to get Vic established early," head coach Chris Collins said Friday. "I think you guys that have covered us know that when he gets off to a good start it usually leads to a good game. And we weren't able to do that yesterday. Part of that was Vanderbilt's defense, part of that was maybe we didn't make a conscious effort to get him the ball in the scoring areas where he could at least see the ball go in the basket.
"I thought in the second half he was more aggressive. In the first half he kind of got out of the flow and Scottie (Lindsey) and (Bryant McIntosh) had it really going and they carried us. But Vic really wasn't in the rhythm. And in the second half he tried to and wasn't able to get going. I think seven of his eight shots were in the second half.
"He's a big part of what we're doing, there's no secret. When we play well our wings usually produce, Law and Lindsey. And so it's going to be important tomorrow, can we get him in the post, can we get him something easy just to see the ball go in and get him back on track to being the guy he's been most of the year."
Of course, Law is valuable for much more than just his scoring ability. He's the team's top defender, named to the Big Ten All-Defensive Team. He's typically tasked with defending the opposing team's best player, and Saturday brings a whale of a matchup with Gonzaga's Nigel Williams-Goss.
Williams-Goss is recognized as one of the nation's top players, and he leads the Bulldogs in scoring, averaging 16.6 points a game. He had his own rough game Thursday in Gonzaga's win over South Dakota State, scoring just nine points on 4-for-13 shooting. But the Cats know they'll have their hands full with him.
"It's certainly going to be a tough task," Bryant McIntosh said. "And first thing we have to do is keep him out of transition as best we can and corral him. He's a one-man fast break. So that will be our first focus coming back on defense. And then we've got to try and gap it up and get out to their shooters when he kicks it. It's a tough task. He's one of the best players in the country.
"Individually I think Vic will probably draw the assignment. So he'll have to do a good initial job. And then it's our job to help him, it's team defense. Yeah, we have a tough task."
So obviously Law can have a huge impact on the game whether he pours in the points or not.
But if he can have a big scoring night, it could be the difference in Northwestern staging an upset of the West Region's No. 1 seed on Saturday. Combining a big game from Law with the scoring that McIntosh has provided for the last month and the scoring that Lindsey has provided for the last few games and the scoring that Dererk Pardon provides in the post would figure to mean the Cats would be dancing on to the Sweet Sixteen.