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Concentration on ‘D’ has paid big dividends for Northwestern

AustEtheringtKale Abrahamson

Austin Etherington, Kale Abrahamson

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Updated: January 21, 2014 12:15AM

Northwestern didn’t have a defensive revelation. The Wildcats have gone through an awakening.

Coach Chris Collins hasn’t been afraid to admit that his team won’t win getting into a shootout with any Big Ten team. It has to play defense.

Only the Wildcats never contemplated that winning that way was a possibility under the previous regime. Defense was allotted small amounts of practice time before Collins arrived.

“It’s something that we really hadn’t focused on previously before coach Collins got here,” forward Kale Abrahamson said. “We really adapted to his style and the way he wanted us to defend.

“Now it’s definitely a focus, and we’ve locked into scouting more a little bit as well because we know we need to stop teams to get wins.”

In the last three games, against Illinois, Michigan State and Indiana, the Wildcats have allowed 30.1 percent shooting from the field and an average of 17.7 field goals.

In a year in which Collins has tried to focus on building his program, this team has managed to set the standard defensively. That’s not to say Northwestern can continue to win without improvement on offense. The team has been as bad offensively as it has been good on defense.

The Wildcats have ridden the hot shooting of Tre Demps, who scored 13 points in the final 6:31 of Northwestern’s 54-47 win at Indiana on Saturday.

But Collins believes the Wildcats can use their defense — getting steals, long rebounds and turnovers — to help them become more opportunistic offensively.

“None of these guys has ever really judged themselves based on their ability to do dirty work,” Collins said. “It’s always been am I making shots or am I doing this offensively? And now our guys are loving getting loose balls, taking charges. They’re taking pride in those things and that’s what makes me really proud.”

NOTE: Point guard Dave Sobolewski was a partial participant in practice Monday after suffering a concussion Jan. 11. Sobolewski, who has missed the last three games, has not been cleared to participate in contact activities.


Twitter: @SethGruen

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