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."

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

anderson.jpg
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.

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.