‘Cats Survive, Stun Baylor 74-70

Head meet scratch. The ‘Cats just pulled out a win in Waco over a Baylor team that beat Kentucky on Saturday. Let me repeat that. This very Baylor team beat Kentucky at Kentucky for the first time an opponent won in 56 games there. Northwestern lost to UIC on that same day. Not many gave the Northwestern Wildcats a chance considering the Kentucky Wildcats got manhandled by this very team. Yet, there we were, opening the second half with a 19-4 run to go up by 18 points and all of a sudden we looked like Maryland did against us. Fast forward what seemed like the longest 10 minutes of basketball time I can remember and one of the ugliest free throw festivals you’ve ever seen and it seemed NU was tenths of a second away from letting it all slip away. We actually won this game 74-70, yet why is it that I feel like we didn’t win, but rather we didn’t lose? Welcome to bizarroland, also known as the 2012-13 Wildcats season. Holy smokes, what the hell just happened?

Let’s first give out some much deserved props. David Sobolewski and Reggie Hearn, take a bow. The two of you played like warriors. Hearn fouled out with about four minutes to go, but in real time that felt like, oh, an hour or so. Sobo, meanwhile, shut down the Big12 Player of the Year (Preseason) for 75% of this game. Pierre Jackson, the Baylor feisty point guard was frustrated. He had ZERO FGs through nearly 30 minutes of play and then proceeded to do more of the run in to the defender and hoist up shots, drawing whistles every single time, it was if Cedric Neloms had come back as the ghost of opponents now. Good gracious, was I getting pissed at the officiating. With over 10 minutes to go, Northwestern was over the team limit – 10 fouls – meaning every whistle the rest of the way would be two FTs for Baylor. Bill Carmody decided to stay in man and Baylor wisely went to a high low post game to simply create match-ups to draw fouls and it worked. What really worked was Baylor’s full court in your face, Illinois State like pressure. Poor Sobo, is the ONLY guy on this NU team capable of protecting the ball in that situation and every possession became life or death and that was just in terms of getting it over the timeline in :10.  Seniors melted in to scared freshmen – except for Sobo and Hearn. If you can’t appreciate how gassed Sobo was, yet still managed to run the offense and down the stretch come up with several HUGE back door passes, then you don’t appreciate basketball in my opinion.

Once again, Northwestern struggled mightily down the stretch from the FT line (after starting 8-10) and it enabled Baylor to get back in the game. You’ve got to really question Bill Carmody’s personnel management as several times after stoppages in play, he elected to leave Alex Olah, a 27% FT shooter in the game and Baylor went to the Hack-a-Shaq approach on our big fella. It worked. Alex did hit a pair of FTs on their first attempt, but after that the floodgates of bad FT shooting occurred and we missed 7 of 8 at one point in the final three minutes. For those of you that missed this, think of every fourth quarter football lead we’ve had in the past two years PRIOR to the Michigan State game this year and you know exactly what I’m talking about. As a fan you went “scoreboard….clock….total possessions left…uh oh….still might be time”. You know the formula.

Watching the ‘Cats cling on in this one was painful. So painful it temporarily blinded me to the fact that WE JUST BEAT BAYLOR ON THE ROAD.  As painful as the UIC loss was, this one is the type of game that can right your non-conference resume in a hurry.  Assuming Baylor gets its act together and plays most games like it did the final 15 minutes of this one against us, they’ll hover in the Top 25 by season’s end. But man, do we have a long way to go.

Lost in most of this post is the good that happened in bulging out to an 18-point lead. It was by far the best 30 minutes of basketball and it really had a lot to do with defense. The ‘Cats, surprisingly successful in mostly man-to-man, limited Pierre Jackson and kept the Maryland-like big men (not named Len) off the glass. Baylor didn’t score a field goal for nearly eight minutes to start the second half.  The continued trend of solid FG % shooting defense was on once again, yet I kept thinking about the fact UIC shot 30% and beat us.

A couple of themes that (re)surfaced tonight:

  • When we commit to crashing the defensive glass, get position and stay active with our hands great things happen; we outrebounded Baylor by 12 – when was the last time we outrebounded a solid team?
  • When Drew Crawford is on, Sobo protects the rock and we have guys hitting back-door lay-ups we can hang with most
  • When Drew Crawford disappears for long stretches, we get really scary on offense
  • Sobolewski is highly underrated and plays like a senior leader
  • We are beyond poor at handling full court pressure
  • Run for cover when its a close game and we need to make our free throws


Many good things happened tonight. Alex Olah played well in spurts and really held his own in the paint and aside from the free throw debacle, you could see him gaining confidence as the night went on. Mike Turner was scrappy on the boards as was Reggie Hearn and Jared Swopshire. We crashed very well defensively on the glass and had good positioning and active hands. Northwestern – get this – outrebounded Baylor 35-23 on the glass and the combination of Hearn, Swopshire, Olah and Crawford did most of that damage. Reggie played extremely well pouring in 17 points and 10 rebounds despite fouling out. It’s also fair to say that officiating was pretty poor. I wish I could cut a highlight package of Pierre Jackson’s fouls and how ludicrous so many of them were.  The refs were just plain inconsistent down the stretch.  They let Baylor bump and bump and bump, but would call ticky tack fouls on one trip, but not the next. Northwestern did themselves no favors as we looked, at times, like a CYO team trying to bring up the ball against a major D1 program. Be forewarned ‘Cats fans, every B1G team will be fullcourt pressuring us after watching this tape and the Illinois State game.


Then there is David Sobolewski. The kid just has moxie. Every bounce, every spin up court with the lightning quick Pierre Jackson waiting to pounce on him like Pat Baldwin used to in the day, is exhausting enough. Then, he would find another gear, run through the offense and more often times than not, find someone for a great look.  Early in the second half, when we were locking down Baylor, Sobo just simply created offense. The shot clock was winding down, he’d take it hard to the hole and get fouled. He was the catalyst for that 19-4 outburst and got everyone going. Then, and you knew it was coming, Baylor made their big run.  Everyone on NU seemed afraid to have the ball, but not Sobo. He wanted the rock.  His 13 point, 3 reb, 3 asst game and just 1 turnover in 37 minutes don’t come close to doing justice how clutch he was in this one. Game ball, David Sobolewski.

You can criticize and point out flaws all you want, but that is a great win.  A fantastic win and quite candidly one of the better bounceback games I can remember in some time by Bill Carmody. He had the ‘Cats ready to play and we did, for a good 30 minutes. Amazingly, we played 10 just awful minutes and still managed to beat an upper tier Big12 team on the road, albeit before a sparse, but rowdy crowd (at least down the stretch). Congratulations to the staff and the ‘Cats, who at 7-2 now return to Evanston to host an always tough Butler Bulldogs team.  If we can somehow play like we did in the first 30 for 40, we might very well get the season momentum back.

Coach Carmody needs to find the confidence to play more guys more minutes by B1G season, however, if we’re going to have any prayer of competing for a .500 record in conference. Once again, he sat guys like Tre Demps, and barely played Kale Abrahamson and frankly only used Alex Marcotullio (who was severly overmatched and played one of his worst games) because of Hearn fouling out and Sobo getting his fourth with five minutes to go. We are really missing Nikola Cerina on the boards right now and we don’t know what we’re missing with Sanjay Lumpkin quite yet, but the rotation needs to expand. Especially if you can hit a free throw in clutch time.

Again, a gutsy win, and any win, even ugly ones like that are gorgeous on the resume. Here is the box score for NU:

Jared Swopshire, F 33 5-12 0-3 2-4 3 7 2 0 0 1 4 12
Drew Crawford, G-F 39 6-11 2-5 5-6 3 5 2 1 0 5 2 19
A Olah 27 4-8 0-0 2-5 1 6 6 0 1 2 4 10
Reggie Hearn, G 36 6-11 0-3 5-6 2 10 2 1 0 3 5 17
Dave Sobolewski, G 37 3-4 3-4 4-8 0 3 3 0 0 1 4 13
Alex Marcotullio, G 8 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 1 0 0 2 0 0
Mike Turner, F 13 0-2 0-0 0-0 1 3 2 0 0 0 3 0
K Abrahamson 7 1-1 1-1 0-0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 3
25-49 6-16 18-29 10 35 18 2 1 15 22 74
51.0% 37.5% 62.1%
  • Jimgocats

    Loose to Maryland and UIC at home. Go to Waco and beat Baylor…..go figure.
    Which team missed more free throws?
    3 points from the bench???? Thought we had depth this year? LTP, I hope he plans on playing Cerina and Lumpkin cuz he ain’t playing hardly anyone else.


    • It seems the bigger the game, the fewer he plays. Not a formula for the long haul. Cats were 18-29 from the line, but boy did it seem a lot worse. Baylor was just one better at 19-29, but shot just 25% from three.

  • PDXCat

    The biggest thing about Sobo tonight was his “I’m not backing down” swagger. On a palming violation, he stepped in to take a charge and seemed to put a shoulder in. After a hoop, he was talked to by the refs to not taunt. And when Gathers flagrant-fouled Swop, Sobo was right there to push through Gathers (who has about 7 inches and 100 pounds on him). I like what he brings to the team.

    Go Cats!

  • hudhaifa3

    Come on LTP readers let’s hear it “FIRE CARMODY” (with sarcasm)
    Good win tonight Wildcat hoops on the road. Keep it going.

    • cebpd

      Carmody had some AWFUL in game coaching, namely leaving in Olah when they started hacking him. nearly lost the game.

    • Db

      If they lost that game the way they were about to lose it you could absolutely make the case to fire him before he left the gym. It was not the players’ fault. He almost unraveled the amazing job he did earlier with decisions that 7th grade coaches could have made.

    • AdamDG

      He has his shortcomings, but no matter the night, his system creates OPEN LOOKS on nearly every possession It’s up to our players to hit the shots. When we make open shots, we win– period.

      • virginiaNU

        how about recruiting the players that can hit those shots??
        why not play more than 3 guys off the bench?

        why have a center who cant shoot fts when they obviously were playing hack-a-shaq

  • cs93

    I nearly had a heart attack watching this crazy game. I’m glad we pulled it out but, as you pointed out, we need to hit our free throws and handle the rock better against the press. One thing to add: we relied heavily on the 3 to start the game and missed about 8 of our first 9 shots. When we started looking for better shots closer to the hoop instead of settling for 3s, the offense came to life. Hitting those easy 2s got our long-range shooting on track. This is a good sign and I think the key for this offense as we have good but not great shooters on this team.

    In all honesty though, Baylor played a bad game. They have size and athleticism, but I can see why they lost to College of Charleston. They looked disinterested, missed a lot of free throws, and didn’t play smart ball. Let’s hope they get it together and have a great season so this NU road win will look really good on the tourney resume.

    Of course, this win won’t matter much unless we start beating some more good teams, starting with a very good Butler team on Saturday. I watched their win over North Carolina. They are what you expect from a good Butler team: not very athletic or big, they play smart, efficient ball, and can really shoot it. That said, I think we match up well with them, especially if we hit the boards like we did tonight.

    • bandcat

      Like what you said about looking for and taking the easy 2s when they are available. Seems Olah has a shot 10 to 15 out..Just like a qb making a couple of easy tosses to loosen up, taking and making the “easy 2s gets you in rhythm..The Board work was obviously huge in this one and we need to keep Crashing them. Sure did not expect this Wacky Win in Waco. Kudos to the staff and players for coming out of a Stupor and not suffering from a Hangover loss to the Flames…Work on the Press!!!!!

  • Watching and (Mostly) Waiting

    Kudos LTP for the Cedric Neloms chuckle! Meanwhile, the “awful” for game coaching has to go to Baylor coach Drew for opening in, and staying so long in, his zone defense. Zone = low energy, and the Bears were sleepwalking for 30 minutes. Then, they scored 30 points in the last 10 minutes! Amazing the Cats survived a 32-16 run before Drew Crawford emerged from hiding to hit his two final FT’s. It really did feel more like a non-loss than a win, but happy to take it!

  • Just the Facts

    Amen on the Alex Olah observation. Please explain to me why a 27% free throw shooter was in the game at the end. With 31.5 seconds left, NU was inbounding the ball at midcourt. The shot clock was off, meaning that NU didn’t need to shoot again (and thus rebounding was not an issue). Also, if Olah was needed for defense, he could be substituted in after the inevitable foul by Baylor. But Olah was in the game. To their credit, the rest of the Cats tried to not pass him the ball, but that left the Cats playing 4-on-5.

    Also, why do the Cats insist on inbounding the ball to a player hugging the baseline or the sideline (or both) giving the ball handler little room to escape? Why does the ball handler instead of quickly dribbling out of danger proceed to stop allowing the defender to pin the ball handler? A few times they broke a player long and it worked. But the rest of the time they were pinned against the baseline.

    Why did Demps not see a minute of action? Wouldn’t having another guard on the floor that can presumably shoot free throws better than Olah be a better option.

    For a team that relies on passing in their structured half court offense (and does it well), they seem to have a problem knowing when to pass in transition. Both Hearn and Crawford will decide they are going to the basket and once they make the decision they stop thinking about the pass option. Several times they had open teammates but instead chose to continue to drive leading to forced shots and a couple of charges.

    At the risk of damning by faint praise, this was, in fact, a big win for the Cats and they deserve a lot of credit for hanging on for the win. However, LTP is right that the last 10 minutes was playing not to lose. It was the basketball version of the 3-man rush and the prevent.

    • Db

      No it wasn’t. It was the football version of putting 11 guys on the goal line when the other team has the ball at their own 30.

  • I know Crawford is the “senior leader” of the team, but last night showed me that this is Sobo’s team, much like it was Juice’s during his tenure at the point…so much heart and fire from that kid

    • Chasmo

      It’s understandable why so many NU fans admire Sobo, but it’s the very quality that makes him so admirable that should make us all wish that Sobo isn’t NU’s starting point guard next year and that kid from N.J. is.
      Yes, Sobo has “moxy,” or whatever you want to call the characteristic of a player with limited ability who plays very hard, but he will never be the second scorer that NU so desperately needs right now. He can not play Juice Thompson to Crawford’s Coble or Shurna.
      NU struggled mightily against Baylor’s press and Sobo was so worn down by the effort that he missed three of his last four free throws which could have easily cost NU the game. Sobo may not back down but he was worn down by Baylor’s athletic defenders pressing him.
      Sobo isn’t a consistent jump shooter, can’t finish open drive to the basket as his shot is often blocked or altered, and can’t match up physically with athletic point guards when NU plays man to man defense.
      Sobo is the best we have right now at PG and we have to hope for the best for him for the rest of the season. But it would be really great if he was splitting time with NU’s top recruit next year. Juice Thompson he is not.

  • Db

    First – great win.  All road wins are great.  Second – incredible job by carmody getting this team ready to play after last week, and adjusting the placement of players to eat up that zone.  Scott Drew is a terrible coach, I now know that.  Third – despite the great preparation, just a horrible job by Carmody over the last 5 mins.  Why it took till the last 20 secs to go offense/defense I have no idea. Olah had a spectacular game, then Carmody almost turns him into the goat.  There were dead balls when Baylor had to foul, and he STILL left him in. Honestly I thought he had a stroke.  Demps has to get a few mins here or there so you can bring him in to handle the ball if necessary.  If this was Fitz he would have just handed the ball to an ice cold Siemien and told him to win the game.  Maybe Trevor can bring the ball up too.
    It is going to take this team a while to figure itself out.  And Cerina – presumably a competent, athletic big – is a HUGE part of what they will be.  But last night was another case of if Crawford shows up, and sobo attacks the basket what can happen.  Can’t stress enough the difference between Sobo being aggressive and being passive – they are two different teams.  When Crawford steps up it lets Hearn and Swop be aggressive role guys and not try to do stuff they can’t do.  Carmody also figured out, at least for one night, that Turner is not a 30 minute guy.  You cannot have a guy on the floor for that much time that is so limited.  He might turn out to be a good player but he is what he is right now.  Go small if you have to, but he is MUCH more effective playing 15mins vs 30mins.
    In summary?  Season not dead, will take these guys a while to figure it out, have to expand the rotation so guys aren’t ready to puke, and Carmody continues to struggle with end of game Xs and Os – which we are not good enough to overcome over a larger sample size.

  • ninthpuppy

    Tribune feels this story is only worthy of “roundup wire service coverage ” and doesn’t even print the correct spellings of players names. Great thanx for the season long banner ads and mondays full page bowl ad.

    • gocatsteve

      It was a late game, so all the Trib could muster in that short time was a wire. It’s better than the Sun-Times which had “Northwestern at Baylor, late”.

      And yes, this game was soooo hard to watch down the stretch. Let’s work on free throws and breaking the full-court press, shall we?? I actually paused the game at the 5-minute mark and started putting lights up on the family Christmas tree to take a break.

  • Leither

    I remember watching the Michigan State game last year, we we pulled of a miraculous win, and I was thinking to myself, “This Sobolewski kid is going to be fire next year.” Well, after watching last night’s game I can safely say that I was right. He is going to continue to be a force on this team, and it’s exciting to know that he isn’t done growing as a player. What isn’t exciting is NU’s response to full court pressure—Like you said, it was a poor representation on what to do those final minutes. Heck, my middle school team handled full court better than that!

  • UVA Cat

    Rebounding and overall effort on our part was the difference in this game, in my opinion. (And it didn’t hurt that Baylor didn’t shoot the ball all that well). That, and the clock ran out on BC to screw it up at the end…but he sure tried…

    Great road win–Baylor will win enough games against solid teams this year to make this one a boost to our RPI.

    However, we must learn how to consistently break the full court press!!!!

  • AdamDG

    Is Stephen Bardo related to Pierre Jackson?

  • Bobfan95

    Does Carmody not believe is setting screens to break the press? Why was Alex Olah in th game so many times on offense when he would obviously be fouled?

    All questions we need to answer before heading into conference play.

    Should have had Turner and Olah or other bench big man in the game once on defense to drill Gathers for the crap he was dishing out.

  • MarkMedill88

    As soon as we got hit with the hanging-on-the-rim technical after we went up by 18, I thought to myself, “We’re gonna lose this fracking game.” Sure enough, if there had been one minute more game-time, we would have lost. The icewater in our veins through the first 25 minutes turned to jelly in our legs (except for Sobo). How many turnovers and looseballs by us, and steals by Baylor, down the stretch? We don’t win games, we just don’t-lose them. And you know what that breeds? A losing mentality. The last NU coach (of any sort) that bred an “expect victory” vibe was Barnett. Every football and basketball coach since then has taken a “scrappy little Wildcats” approach, where any win over a big-name team is seen as a huge upset. Why do we do this to ourselves, when other “smart” schools like Stanford, Duke and Notre Dame can breed the “expect victory” mentality? When Baylor was down 18, they had nothing going on, their heads weren’t in the game, and a “winning” team would have stepped on Baylor’s neck and cruised to a 24-point blowout. Not NU. Just like football. Baylor must have been thinking, “We’re down by 18 with 15 to go, we have no answers, we have no game…We got ’em right where we want ’em.” Baylor didn’t even show up tonight and they still almost won in a near-empty gym against an NU team that was on fire for the first 25 minutes. I have very little faith that NU is going anywhere in B1G action.

    • wcgrad

      The fact that NU went up by as much as 18 after their abysmal start shows that they “expected victory”. Individual talent counts for A TON on the basketball court, what’s amazing is that as many execution errors as NU had, they still pulled out the win, despite having the far less talented team. I would wager every member of Baylor’s normal rotation 5 was more highly regarded coming out of high school than Drew Crawford (or whomever you consider NU’s best). Keep in mind that this team is getting a LOT of minutes from its freshmen and sophomores, and as such will struggle in some nights against meh competition. I see us having a conference season like Iowa’s last year: lossing some head-scratchers and then pulling off a few crazy upsets. Just need to get to 9 B1G wins…

      • MarkMedill88

        Sorry, don’t agree. Baylor came in overconfident and cold, as often happens when big-time schools play mediocre teams like NU who suddenly get hot for a half. Then, midway through the third quarter (football) or the second half (baseball), NU suddenly realizes, “Hey, we’re actually beating Baylor/Michigan/Nebraska/Duke,” just as the opposing coach breathes some fire into his somnolent players. Opponent fires up, NU wilts. Game over. Why can’t our coaches give our players the “FINISH HIM!!!” mentality. Nope, we puss out every time. Can’t believe we survived for for the win. We did everything in our power to give it away.

    • UVA Cat

      I agree that we need a killer instinct out there in games like this. However, as far as your generalized comment regarding NU coaches, I’m pretty sure that NU’s Kelly Amonte Hiller breeds the “expect victory” vibe…


    Any chance NorthwesternHighlights will put up some from this game? Missed the game and would love to be able to see the ‘Cats in action.