As most of you already know, my Northwestern Wildcats were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the second round, by Gonzaga, 79-73. This drew the curtain on the most exciting season in NU Basketball history: a school record of 24 wins in one season; our first winning record in Big 10 play in over 40 years; our first 2-win effort in the Big 10 Tournament; our first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament; our first-ever win in NCAA play, a 68-66 nail-biter vs. Vanderbilt in the first round at Salt Lake City.
We fell behind badly vs. Gonzaga, being behind, 38-20, at the half. But, we made a tremendous comeback to get to -5 with lots of time on the clock, 58-63, when the officials missed the most obvious goal-tending call in the history of basketball, which cost us not only those two points but let the refs also stick our coach, Chris Collins, with a technical foul. After the game, the NCAA ‘apologized’ to Northwestern and ‘reprimanded’ the officials. Well, as they say, the two hardest words to grasp in any language are … too late.
Here is the play in question. The rule on goal-tending is clear: if you stick your hand through the rim to interfere with a shot, that’s goal-tending. It also forbids touching the net, as that creates a ‘floor’ that does not permit the ball to enter the hoop. The Gonzaga player did BOTH of those things and the referees swallowed their whistles on the play. Would we have won the game with those two points (and no T)? No one can say that … but that’s not the point.
Well, the NCAA is getting an earful from the mass media right now. As this story says, “How the NCAA failed.” How could they have blown this? I mean, you had the No. 1 seed vs. the Cinderella team. Put your best officials on that game! Back in the 1960s, in those big games, the NCAA did it right: Steve Honzo, Hal Grossman and the incomparable Zigmund ‘Red’ Mihalik called every game!
That said, Northwestern Basketball broke its own sound barrier. Thanks to AD Jim Phillips and his department, and thanks to coach Chris Collins and his staff, we have a program that is … competitive. This will help recruiting immensely. And we do need that! We need a couple of franchise-carrier super stars and we need quality depth, 12 deep. That will not be easy but it’s now possible. Rivals can no longer tell recruits “If you go to NU, you’ll never play in the NCAA.” That is now ancient history.
All this helps to get people behind the program. There were thousands of NU fans and alums at the games in Salt Lake City, wearing the purple T-shirts, cheering their lungs out. So, the loss hurts right now but, once that pain wears off, we’ll have the recall of this history-making season, when we moved the mountain, split the ice pack and forded the ocean. Chris Collins is my slam-dunk nominee for NCAA Coach of the Year. Why not? He made my day, week, month, year, decade, century. One hell of a job. DP, NU ’58.