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Northwestern needs momentum now if NCAA berth is to happen

John ShurnNorthwestern beHawkeyes 83-64 Feb. 9 Welsh-Ryan Arena.  |  Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

John Shurna and Northwestern beat the Hawkeyes 83-64 on Feb. 9 at Welsh-Ryan Arena. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Northwestern at Iowa

The facts: 1:30 p.m., BTN, 720-AM.

Updated: April 4, 2012 8:08AM

It’s probably not such a bad thing to be an optimist, though Northwestern coach Bill Carmody doesn’t like that word.

At this point, staying optimistic is all the Wildcats can do with regard to their chances of making the NCAA tournament, considering their devastating 75-73 loss to No. 10 Ohio State on Wednesday and their road game against Iowa on Saturday.

Carver Arena is a notoriously difficult place to play, and the Wildcats will need to bring their A-game if they want to end the regular season on a strong note and head into next week’s Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis with some momentum.

‘‘I said [before the Ohio State game] we had some work to do, and I think we’re a good team,’’ Carmody said. ‘‘Certainly, a loss doesn’t solidify [tournament chances]. We have to get what we can out of [the Ohio State loss] and go to Iowa and be ready to go there. They win there and are playing very well. If we get that and get one in the tournament, we’ll see.’’

Talk of NU being a bubble team to make the NCAAs will be moot if it can pull off the unthinkable and win the Big Ten tournament.

That’s why winning at Iowa is so important. The Wildcats (17-12, 7-10) already have had their way with the Hawkeyes this season, beating them handily, 83-64, on Feb. 9 at Welsh-Ryan Arena to cap a three-game winning streak.

After the Ohio State game, NU athletic director Jim Phillips approached senior forward John Shurna and gave him some advice.

‘‘[Phillips said] we have a big game Saturday against Iowa and this [Ohio State game] was a tough loss, but you have to move on and get ready for an Iowa team that is playing really well,’’ Shurna said. ‘‘They’re at home, so all road games are tough in the Big Ten.’’

Iowa (16-14, 8-9) had an up-and-down week, losing at Illinois on Sunday and winning at Nebraska on Wednesday. It has won five of its last eight, including a 67-66 upset at Wisconsin on Feb. 23.

Hawkeyes senior guard Matt Gatens ranks seventh in the Big Ten with an average of 15.7 points per game, and he’s fifth in three-point percentage (44 percent). He was named the Big Ten’s player of the week last week after averaging 27.5 points against Wisconsin and Illinois.

‘‘He is the epitome of character and class in what he’s done on the floor and how he’s carried himself,’’ Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.

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