Northwestern claims second straight Big Ten win

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Northwestern can make for a frustrating
opponent, as Minnesota was reminded in a not-so-promising Big Ten

Vedran Vukusic, the Big Ten's leading scorer, had 17 points and
seven rebounds to pace the Wildcats in a 57-49 victory over the
Gophers on Saturday afternoon.

"We weren't able to ever get comfortable," coach Dan Monson

Freshman Craig Moore scored a career-high 15 points, all on
3-pointers, and Sterling Williams also added 15 points to help
maintain a perfect start for Northwestern (9-4, 2-0) in conference
play after a win over lowly Purdue earlier this week.

The Wildcats flustered the Gophers (9-3, 0-1) with their active
1-3-1 zone that smothers the lane and makes it difficult for
slashers like Vince Grier to get to the basket. Grier had 15 points
and seven rebounds, but two-thirds of his scoring came in the final
3:35 with his team already way behind.

"If he gets hot, it's hard to stop him," Vukusic said. "We
just played magnificent defense."

Dan Coleman had 11 points, Adam Boone had nine points and Moe
Hargrow added eight points for Minnesota, which went 7-for-26 from
3-point range and was held to by far its lowest offensive output
since a 66-point production in a loss at Maryland on Nov. 30. The
Gophers got to the free-throw line only eight times and made just
four foul shots.

"It's an awkward style, man," Hargrow said. "I ain't never in
my life seen a zone like that. Literally, it looks like there's
nowhere to go with the ball. ... Everybody has their hands up, and
there's not lanes to pass it."

Northwestern, which has won four straight in this series,
trailed 2-0 but never again after Moore sank his first 3-pointer
with just 48 seconds elapsed.

The Wildcats -- who went 9-for-16 from 3-point range -- extended a
31-18 halftime lead to as many as 19 in the second half, when
Williams saw an opening from the baseline, calmly drove into
traffic and flipped in a reverse layup to make it 41-22 with less
than 15 minutes remaining.

This was a clear confidence builder for a young team playing its
first Big Ten road game.

"We've been playing pretty decently the last couple weeks,"
said coach Bill Carmody. "We're starting to shoot the ball a
little better and it's making a difference."

Minnesota was consistently out of offensive rhythm, often
settling too soon for 3-pointers and missing most of the few good
looks Northwestern allowed. Hargrow's floater with under 3 minutes
to go cut the deficit to 50-40, and Monson ordered a timeout.

Grier made a 3-pointer to get Minnesota within seven, but Moore
answered with his own swish from behind the arc. A layup by Grier
made it 53-47 with 36.8 seconds left, but Minnesota was forced to
foul and couldn't get closer. The Wildcats held Grier to 6-for-16

"Vince Grier's human, OK?" Monson said. "They did a great

A clear consensus from preseason predictions pegged Northwestern
in the bottom three of the Big Ten with Purdue and Penn State, and
results from the nonconference part of the Wildcats' schedule --
including a home loss to Illinois-Chicago -- did little to dispute

But Northwestern, despite missing senior guard Mohamed Hachad
for the third straight game following an emergency appendectomy,
always plays tough defense under Carmody. The Wildcats stifled the
short-handed Gophers into 30 percent shooting (6-for-20) and 11
turnovers in the first half.

Minnesota was still missing scrappy forward J'son Stamper, who
hasn't appeared in three games since spraining his right knee
against Grambling on Dec. 21. Several players were sick this week,
too, including starting center Spencer Tollackson who came off the
bench but had only two points in limited minutes.

But the Gophers did have their three best players -- the
all-senior backcourt of Grier, Hargrow (3-for-9) and Boone
(3-for-10), which couldn't get much of anything going. A trio of
3-pointers by Boone before halftime kept Minnesota from falling
behind by even more.

Not only did Northwestern have its defense working well, but
good ball movement and contributions by several players took a big
load off Vukusic. Especially Moore.

"He's acting like he's been here for two or three years,"
Vukusic said.