For Northwestern, the third time was the charm Thursday night.
After being blown out in the first two matchups with the Hawkeyes this season, the Wildcats pulled off a stunner in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, knocking off Iowa, 67-62.
"A lot of times for a team like ours with the record we have, you can have a tendency — we're playing a team that would beat us by close to 30 points both times we played them. You can have a tendency to maybe just come here to Indy, enjoy the day, play a little ball and be done with things," Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said after the game. "But that's not what my group wanted to do, and that's not who they've been, and I thought they played outstanding. We played maybe our best game of the year."
The Wildcats were able to take advantage of the Hawkeyes' miserable run of late, one that's seen Iowa drop six of its last seven games and play poor defense throughout. That continued Thursday, with Northwestern dropping 67 points, something that's happened just four times against Big Ten opponents this season.
In typical Northwestern fashion, the Cats leaned almost entirely on a trio of scorers. Tre Demps led the way with 20 points, and Drew Crawford scored 15. Strangely, though, it was Dave Sobolewski who was the third guy in double figures, scoring 10 points.
"We made shots, and that hasn't been something we've done a lot this year. It was nice to see the ball go in the basket," Collins said.
For the Cats, it's a terrific win, one that brings back memories of that midseason stretch of success — a stretch that coincidentally was spurred on and ended by blowout losses to Iowa. It's just the seventh time the Cats have advanced to the quarterfinals in the Big Ten Tournament. It's another step in the process of rebuilding this program for Collins.
For the Hawkeyes, it furthers this late-season free fall. A team that once appeared destined for a deep NCAA tournament run will still make the Big Dance, but the chances of Fran McCaffery's crew winning a game shrink with each new loss.
Northwestern next gets Michigan State in the quarterfinals, another team that beat the Cats in two previous meetings this season. It's a tall task, of course, but the Cats are ready. After all, they're not in Indy to see the sights.
"Yeah, even just waiting there, as a competitor, I start thinking about the game," Demps said. "We didn't do a good job of playing defense against them. We felt like we scored the ball well, but we didn't fight that game. I think playing against those guys, they're very similar to Iowa. They like to push the ball up-and-down. They play really physical on the glass. We're going to have to have the same physicality that we had tonight."