Upstart Wildcats and Blue-blood Bruins are contrasting studies


SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Northwestern Wildcats were in childlike wonder at the position they were in all weekend.

It will be the second time in program history that the Wildcats have qualified for the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Whether it’s the joyous smiles they couldn’t hide, the nerves they spoke outright, or the joy they felt simply from being here, the Wildcats reek of inexperience.

Confronting them could not be a more polar opposite program. The UCLA Bruins are tough, poised, and possess a level of mystique that other programs have sought.

They are not happy here. They won’t be happy until they leave with tickets to Sweet 16.

“I’m thrilled to have another chance to continue the season with any program, whether it’s UCLA or the worst team in basketball,” said Chase Ordige. “This is a kid’s dream. Being able to perform on this stage is a blessing in itself.”

That kind of attitude is cute, isn’t it? But that’s a far cry from the energy UCLA brings to Saturday night’s matchup.

In his fourth season as Bruins coach, Mick Cronin is running a well-oiled machine that lives up to its design, and it doesn’t need Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jalen Clarke. Of course, with players like Jaime Jaquez Jr. (he’s the seventh Pac-12 Player of the Year winner in UCLA history), it’s easy to see why.

“We are training for this period,” Cronin said. “We’re not trying to have a good season. This is the icing on the cake. We train for it. Our intensity is up these days.”

Clearly getting out of the way, it’s clear the Bruins have experience on their side. Let’s get down to the very real possibility of

Much has been said about the 2017 Wildcats Tournament Team and its impact on this year’s team. From group chats discussing which team will win the pick-up game, to historic NU team member Bryant McIntosh on the coaching staff, this tournament team has no lack of ties to the program’s past.

The question is, what prompted NU to take it one step further and set it up to do what the team failed to do in 2017, promoting it to Sweet 16?

“It’s like having two kids and being asked who your favorite child is,” Collins said.

It’s a difficult question to answer, sure, but there’s always an answer, right?

“Maybe so, but I’m not going to tell you,” Collins said with a laugh.

The 2016-17 team laid the foundation, and this 2022-23 team wants to extend it. Their belief that they can be rooted in the similarity they share with the group: an unparalleled level of togetherness.

Senior forward Robbie Veran entertained with ideas as to why this team is gearing up for a more realistic move forward. He talked about schematics after realizing his team boasted better looks this tournament.

“I don’t know if they had a post-trap like we did,” Bellan said. If you beat the rock for 100 days and nothing broke, even if the rock broke on the 101st day, you didn’t do anything different.”

Northwestern’s post trap was a highlighted point in Cronin’s media availability. So was the team’s overall defense, which he admired. According to Cronin, what NU lacks in experience, it makes up for in talent. He said he always prioritizes talent over experience.

Clarke’s Achilles tendon injury isn’t the only threat to the Bruins’ title hopes. Freshman forward Adem Bona has been sidelined since his Pac-12 tournament semifinal against Oregon with a left shoulder injury.

Before practice on Friday afternoon, he said he was ready. Cronin did not confirm whether he would play.

“I’m going to have him do a few things to reassure him where he is today,” Cronin said. I’m getting ready to test it, it’s more than I have.

With or without Bona, NU faces an uphill battle.

UCLA carries the weight of expectations, but Northwestern University has already easily achieved more than anyone asked for. That could be the key to making an important statement on Saturday night.

“[I’ve told the team] Don’t make the game any bigger than that,” said Collins. “The last time we played here against Gonzaga, I thought it was a little too big early in the game.


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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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