Big Ten

Northwestern's approach on eve of first-ever NCAA tournament game: 'Why would we come all this way and just go home?'

Northwestern's approach on eve of first-ever NCAA tournament game: 'Why would we come all this way and just go home?'

SALT LAKE CITY — It was a moment nearly eight decades in the making: Northwestern took the court at the NCAA tournament.

The Wildcats were still a day away from taking on the Vanderbilt Commodores in their first-ever NCAA tournament game, but there head coach Chris Collins was, monitoring both ends of Wednesday afternoon's open practice while pacing back and forth across the March Madness logo.

Northwestern ending its 78-year NCAA tournament drought is one of the biggest stories of this year's Big Dance, and certainly that Selection Sunday outburst of joy will remain unforgettable.

But for the Cats, being here is nowhere near enough, even if it might be for fans who have waited more than three quarters of a century for Northwestern to finally be on this stage. Collins and his players delivered a unanimous message Wednesday that one game is not nearly a long enough run in this NCAA tournament.

"Why would we come all this way and just go home?" Nathan Taphorn said.

The journey has been a long and well-chronicled one. Collins took over ahead of the 2013-14 season and in four years has taken the Big Ten's perennial basketball bottom-feeder and turned it into one of the conference's winning programs and an NCAA tournament particpant. Smashing through that program-specific barrier of getting to the tournament was terrific, monumental from an outsider's perspective. But inside the program, inside the locker room, just getting here is not how this team wants this story to end.

"I think we can't emphasize enough that this isn't the end goal. It's one of our goals to make the tournament, but we're not just satisfied to be here," Bryant McIntosh said. "We're going to go out and try and win a game and continue playing, playing for our lives, just to continue the season on. So it's been such a special year that you don't want to see it end. And that's why it's just a single goal and not the end goal."

"There's no question, the first time is special," Collins said. "The first selection show you watch when you see your name, it's special. And I want them to be excited. I want them to feel that they've done something really good. ... The thing I love about this group, though, is once kind of all that passed from Sunday into Monday, they've really locked into wanting to win here. They don't just want to be here and show up and go home. It's nice to be invited to the party. It's nice to be invited to the Dance. You want to stay a while. To do that you have to go out and win."

Collins is obviously a huge part of that mindset, and he can speak from experience.

Before coming to Northwestern, Collins spent a combined 17 years as a member of the Duke basketball program, four as a player and 13 as an assistant coach to Mike Krzyzewski. In that more than decade and a half of going to one NCAA tournament after another, Collins learned a thing or two about being on college basketball's biggest and brightest stage. He's trying to pass that down to his players.

"Obviously he’s been here before," Vic Law said. "He knows what the atmosphere’s like, he knows what the environment’s like. He’s really trying to prepare us mentally for that.

"(He's saying) that this isn’t going to be some regular, ordinary game. That our talk and our focus in these games is going to be really important. That you need to get your nerves out. We need to play confident and loose. This isn’t just some game. Obviously, we’ve never seen Vanderbilt play before, so we need to be even more locked in during film, during scouting."

So while this year's Northwestern group has already done the unthinkable, done something previously believed to be impossible, done more than every other Northwestern team ever combined to do, the question the Cats are asking themselves is a simple one: Why should they let it stop now?

"We all came here to be a part of a different Northwestern, and be a part of history. And we achieved that goal," Sanjay Lumpkin said. "And now that we are here we want to do everything we can to stay here. And this is not just the end goal for Northwestern basketball, we see this as the starting point, a new standard that can be set for our program.

"It's been a magical season, it's been awesome, none of us want to see the season end."

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

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USA TODAY

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

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USA TODAY

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.