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January 29, 2014

Cats kill Kohl curse


MADISON, Wis.-In a year of stunning upsets, this was Northwestern's biggest by far.

Facing a Wisconsin team that manhandled them by 27 points four weeks ago in an arena where they had never won before, the Wildcats somehow overcame those odds to pull off a 65-56 win over the No. 14 Badgers.

Northwestern coupled its typical tenacious defense with atypical 56.5 percent shooting in the second half to win for the first time in 14 tries at the Kohl Center, and for the first time anywhere in Madison since 1996.

Here are our rapid reactions to Northwestern's latest improbable win.



Did you see that? Tre Demps' ridiculous three-pointer. Northwestern was heating up in the clutch, up 39-35 with just over 10 minutes left. Demps ran the baseline, came off a screen, got a pass at the wing, and rose up. Even with a hand in his face while he shot from about a foot beyond the arc, Demps drilled the rainbow jumper and gave the Wildcats a seven-point lead.



Offensive player of the game: Drew Crawford. Any doubt that his slump is over has been erased. Crawford erupted for a season-high 30 points on 10-for-15 shooting, with almost all of his buckets coming from one-on-one offense. He was hitting pull-up jumper after pull-up jumper on his way to 20 second-half points. And while he turned the ball over just as much as everyone else against the press, he hit the free throws that allowed Northwestern to survive.



Defensive player of the game: Sanjay Lumpkin. Like he's done so many times this year, Lumpkin showed defensive versatility that is rare to see from a freshman. He spent most of the time guarding the perimeter and distracting Wisconsin's many jump shots with his long wingspan, but when Northwestern needed him to leave his comfort zone, he did. Alex Olah had to guard power forward Nigel Hayes, who is almost solely a post-up player, so Lumpkin held his own against 7-footer Frank Kaminsky. Lumpkin was also a menace on the boards, snatching a game-high 12 on the night.



Turning point: Raining 3s. Down 35-34 with 11:25 to go, Northwestern went on an 8-0 run to give them a lead they wouldn't relinquish. After a Demps jumper, JerShon Cobb drilled a three from the corner, and then Demps came off the screen and knocked down the aforementioned "Tre" ball. It gave the Wildcats a 42-35 lead, quieted the crowd, and handed Wisconsin a deficit from which it couldn't come back.



Atmosphere: The Kohl Center may seat over 17,000, but as usual, the Wisconsin fans filled it up right to the top. However, it wasn't as loud an atmosphere as many of the places NU has seen so far, such as Carver-Hawkeye Arena or Assembly Hall in Bloomington. Kohl gave off more of an NBA feel than college, leaving room to wonder why the Badgers have such a huge home-court advantage.



Key stat: The Wildcats shot 47.9 percent from the floor for the game, their first time even breaking 40 percent since a Dec. 16 win over Mississippi Valley State. On the other hand, Wisconsin shot 26.3 percent, its worst shooting performance of the season.



Unsung hero: Nikola Cerina. The (somewhat) big man showed up bigger than he has all season. While Olah sat on the bench with two first-half fouls, Cerina snuck to the rim for six points before the break, matching his Northwestern career-high total for an entire game. He also did it on the defensive end. While he gave up several inches to whomever he was guarding, Cerina did a fantastic job of anticipating post-entry passes, finishing the game with three steals.





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