Wildcats breeze past South Dakota

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Wildcats breeze past South Dakota

EVANSTON Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter ripped open a plastic bag and popped some Swedish Fish into his mouth.

After a 38-7 rout of FCS opponent South Dakota on Saturday, Colter was able to enjoy the gummy candy during his postgame interview.

Now comes the hard part.

The Wildcats open Big Ten play next week after going 4-0 in their non-conference schedule.

As we go into Big Ten play, we expect to win games, expect to win the conference, Colter said. Were not going to get too high when we have success.

Northwestern was the only college football team to go 3-0 against BCS teams in beating Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College, but the Wildcats understand a new season begins Saturday against Indiana.

While we did go 4-0 in the non-conference, it doesnt mean much if you dont do well in conference, defensive end Quentin Williams said. Its gratifying to be 4-0. Were in a great place right now, but we have a long way to go and were going to work toward it.

In their non-conference finale, the Wildcats wanted to establish their running game and get younger players on the field. They met their goals Venric Mark rushed for 117 yards and three touchdowns, and Northwestern finished with 277 yards on the ground. Several reserves got playing time, as third-string quarterback Zack Oliver made his first career appearance.

Weve been running the ball really well, Colter said. The offensive line has done a great job opening up some holes. The running backs have been running hard. If its not broke, dont fix it, so were going to keep coming back to that (running game).

If you can dominate the run game, you have a great chance of winning. The running game is working for us, so were going to stick to that.

Mark finished six yards short of his career high for single-game rushing yards, set two weeks ago against Vanderbilt. He rushed for three touchdowns and 97 yards before halftime.

Venric is playing at a very high level right now, coach Pat Fitzgerald said. The way hes been able to run the ball between the tackles hes proven that he can. He has great speed, great vision. The way hes gone about his business the first four weeks has been outstanding. The heavy lifting starts in Big Ten play.

With its running game marching down the field, Northwestern didnt need much of a passing game. The Wildcats five rushing touchdowns were their most since 2009. The three quarterbacks combined to pass 15 times, completing 12 for 131 yards. Northwestern has yet to throw an interception.

Both Colter and backup Trevor Siemian got banged up but OK. Colter came out in the first quarter with a wrist injury. He said he might have landed on the wrist wrong and irritated a previous injury. Siemian went down after getting hit with a blitz late in the first quarter and nearly threw an interception, but he also returned.

A week ago, Northwestern kicked five field goals and scored its lone touchdown on its final play on offense against Boston College. This time, the Wildcats had no trouble finding the end zone, scoring touchdowns during three of their first four drives and commanding a 28-0 halftime lead.

Number one, we ran the ball more efficiently, Fitzgerald said. We were able to control the line of scrimmage, which obviously if you can run the ball, it makes things a lot easier. Number two, we just executed. A week ago, we just werent executing.

Fitzgerald also liked his teams focus against an FCS team. While fellow Big Ten teams struggled against supposedly lesser opponents, as Iowa lost to Central Michigan and Michigan State held on against Eastern Michigan, Northwestern had little trouble Saturday.

Weve gotta get better and keep embracing that through this journey, Fitzgerald said. We got better this week. Now the challenge gets a lot harder.

Blackhawks break late tie to best rival Blues

Blackhawks break late tie to best rival Blues

Patrick Kane scored his 24th goal of the season and Artem Anisimov scored the game-winner as the Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on Sunday night.

The Blackhawks have won nine of their last 10 and are one point within the Minnesota Wild, whose bye ends on Monday night. Duncan Keith recorded a secondary assist for his 500th career point. Scott Darling, starting for Corey Crawford (illness), stopped 30 of 32 shots.

The Blackhawks got off to a 2-0 start in the first 12 minutes of the game, thanks to Jonathan Toews' 16th goal of the season and Kane's power-play goal. But the Blues kept chipping away and forced a tie game by the end of the second period.

But the second line, which hasn't been quite as productive lately, got in on the act late in the third. Panarin threw a perfect feed to Anisimov, who scored his 22nd of the season with 5:20 remaining in regulation.

Tanner Kero added an empty-net goal with 2.6 seconds remaining.

Illini keep NCAA tournament hopes afloat with dominant win over Nebraska

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USA TODAY

Illini keep NCAA tournament hopes afloat with dominant win over Nebraska

Illinois' last-ditch effort to reach the NCAA tournament is still alive.

The Illini won for the third straight time and the fourth time in their last five games Sunday night, using a monstrous second half to fly past the Nebraska Cornhuskers by a 73-57 score in Lincoln.

Illinois started the Big Ten season 3-8, but with this recent surge it's up to 7-9 and with two regular-season games remaining has at the very least given itself a much better position in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament and perhaps has played itself into a spot on the NCAA tournament bubble.

Defense has been the driving force throughout this recent stretch, and Sunday was no different, with Nebraska scoring just 57 points, the second straight game in which Illinois has held its opponent under 60 points.

But offense told the story Sunday, with the Illini catching fire in the second half and shooting the lights out at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Illinois shot 59.1 percent from the field over the final 20 minutes, including a stellar 8-for-13 from 3-point range. The Illini outscored the Huskers by a 43-29 margin after halftime.

All in all, Illinois shot 48.1 percent on the night and 13-for-26 from behind the 3-point line. The Illini's 73-point output was their highest since Jan. 25.

Malcolm Hill had a game-high 19 points and moved past Cory Bradford for fifth place on the program's all-time scoring list. Tracy Abrams joined Hill in double figures with 13 points. Hill and Abrams each hit four 3-pointers. Maverick Morgan scored 12 points.

Tai Webster scored 17 points for Nebraska, the only Husker in double figures on a poor offensive night. The team shot 37.5 percent from the field and went just 4-for-15 from 3-point range.

Illinois still seems like a bit of a longshot to make the NCAA tournament given its 17-12 overall record and the weakness of the Big Ten this season. But things are getting real late in the season. This surge could very well help the Illini end their three-year tournament drought and could do big things for head coach John Groce, who has had his job status talked about all season long.

Illinois' final two regular-season bouts come this week against Michigan State and at Rutgers.