Connecticut Huskies vs. Northwestern Wildcats Pick & Prediction MARCH 24th 2024

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NEW YORK — With defending national champion UConn likely looming as Northwestern’s next opponent, Wildcats head coach Chris Collins knew he wouldn’t have much time to savor Friday’s first-round win over Florida Atlantic.

And that was before the Huskies posted one of their most resounding NCAA Tournament wins.

Northwestern (22-11) will look to make its first Sweet 16 and UConn (32-3) will aim to continue its march toward another national title on Sunday night when the teams meet in an East Region second-round game.

Both teams advanced with first-round wins on Friday afternoon. The ninth-seeded Wildcats squandered a nine-point lead in the second half lead before posting a 77-65 win in overtime over eighth-seeded Florida Atlantic. The top-seeded Huskies led wire-to-wire in a 91-52 victory over No. 16 Stetson.

“I want to enjoy this game before I start talking about that juggernaut,” Collins said with a grin at approximately 3:25 p.m. ET Friday, just minutes after UConn tipped off.

The Huskies scored the first eight points, led by as many as 36 in the first half and maintained a lead of at least 30 points for the final 11:07. All five starters scored in double figures for the Huskies, who shot 52.9 percent from the field (37 of 70) while limiting Stetson to 30.9 percent shooting (17 of 55), including 3 of 20 from 3-point range.

“We got off to a fast start like we wanted to,” said graduate student guard Tristen Newton, who had 13 points and eight of UConn’s 22 assists. “We played great 3-point line defense.”

The win was the second-most lopsided NCAA Tournament victory in school history for UConn behind a 103-47 victory over Chattanooga in a first-round game in 2009.

“We all felt a lot of pressure going into this game,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “It’s hard not to, as great as you feel about your team, because you just don’t want to be that one seed that (loses), especially with the year that we’ve had since this time last year.”

Northwestern’s hopes of springing an upset likely will come down to the performance of veterans Ryan Langborg, Boo Buie and Brooks Barnhizer, who combined to score 62 points Friday.

Barnhizer, a junior, scored with nine seconds remaining to force overtime for the Wildcats, who led 54-45 with 6:43 left before Florida Atlantic mounted a 13-2 run. Langborg, a graduate student who played in the NCAA Tournament last year with Princeton, scored Northwestern’s first seven points in overtime and finished with 12 points in the extra session.

Northwestern improved to 3-2 in overtime games this season.

“Usually in those games, us three are the ones that are playing the majority of high minutes,” said Buie, a fifth-year graduate student. “It’s our job as leaders to make sure that going into that overtime period, we’re telling each other this is our game.”

Northwestern, which was the lone power conference school to never make the NCAA Tournament before Collins arrived, improved to 3-0 in first-round games. The Wildcats fell to Gonzaga 79-73 in the 2017 second round and lost to UCLA 68-63 last year.

“We’re trying to build something that’s sustainable, something that can last,” Collins said. “And the more you can win and the more you can get on this stage – perception is everything.”

–Jerry Beach, Field Level Media

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