Now it is time for the top 5 Northwestern basketball games of the past decade. I debated number five for a time, but actually numbers one to four were always on my list. They were not, however, always in the order which they appear below. I especially debated the top two, but I’m happy with this list in the end so let’s get to it...
# 5 January 14th 2004 – Northwestern 70 #25 Illinois 60
This game makes the top five for a few reasons. First, it had two unbelievable individual performances from Davor Duvancic and Jitim Young. Davor hit 4 threes, including one that bounced high off the front of the rim then in the hoop, and scored 22 points. Jitim added a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Second, NU was down 9 points and the half yet still won by 10. That’s second half domination. Third, the game was first win over Illinois in 5 seasons for NU and was played in front of a sell-out crowd. When the game was over the Illini fans left depressed and the Wildcat fans rushed the court.
#4 February 10th 2001 – Northwestern 69 #14 Iowa 61
Bill Carmody’s first Big Ten win as NU’s coach ended a 32-game regular season conference losing streak which dated back to the end of the 1999 regular season. The ‘Cats got 20 points from Winston Blake in the victory and began a trend of having success against Iowa in Welsh-Ryan which has continued throughout Carmody’s career.
#3 February 7th 2004 – Northwestern 69 #11 Wisconsin 51
This game wasn’t exactly dramatic, but it is by far NU’s most dominated performance against a high-level opponent in the decade. Northwestern took a team expected to contend for a Big Ten title and totally dismantled them. Vedran Vukusic had 18 points, Jitim Young 17 points, and Davor Duvancic 12 points in the easy NU victory.
#2 January 26th 2005 – Northwestern 75 #23 Iowa 74 (overtime)
Mich-ael…Jen-kins…clap…clap…clap. This game actually was #1 on my initial list which focused more on the excitement of the contest. It got bumped when I factored in importance to the program overall. Nevertheless, this contest remains the best NU athletic contest I attended as a student. With game seemingly over Vedran Vukusic took over to singlehandedly bring NU back to tie the score in the final few minutes. Then in over time when Iowa crusted around Vedran, Time Doyle found Michael Jenkins alone in the corner. As Jenkins shot bounced high off the rim every NU fan thought for sure the comeback had fallen short, but when it bounded again and fell into the net Welsh-Ryan erupted in the most amazing out pouring of spontaneous shared joy I’ve ever seen. Mich-ael…Jen-kins…clap…clap…clap.
#1 January 21st 2009 - Northwestern 70 #7 Michigan State 63
This game has everything a number one game should have. It was exciting (not buzzer beater exciting, but still good), it was very important to NU’s program development, and it featured an individual performance for the ages from junior forward Kevin Coble. Coble put on a dominating display on his way to 31 points making shots that it seemed nobody else, save maybe Michael Jordan, could put through the twine. The game showed Big Ten fans Northwestern might just be a serious threat in conference play. It featured clutch performances down the stretch from Craig Moore drilling a three when it looked like Michigan State was ready to retake the lead and Juice Thompson icing the game from the line. Most importantly, though, if Northwestern takes the step forward we all think they will to start the next decade this game will be looked back as the launching point for birth of a new age of Northwestern basketball. An age where Northwestern can stand up against top teams, where NU’s players can compete with the best of the nation, and where an NCAA Tournament breath is a realistic expectation, not an unachievable winter dream.