January 01, 2016

Northwestern's NCAA Tournament drought has been well documented, and it's only finished higher than seventh in the Big Ten once in the past 45 years.

That hasn't stopped the Wildcats from thinking big this season, even without Alex Olah.

Seeking their first 2-0 conference start since 2006, the Wildcats will get an opportunity to see how far they've come at home Saturday night when they try to deny fourth-ranked Maryland a seventh consecutive victory.

Surprising Northwestern won its 10th in a row Wednesday, 81-72 at Nebraska in its Big Ten opener. It's the longest winning streak since a school-record 12-game run in 1930-31.

The Wildcats are off to their best start since that national title season, though they've never qualified in the NCAA Tournament era. A fifth-place showing in 2003-04 accounted for the only time since 1969-70 that they finished higher than seventh in the Big Ten.

Northwestern (13-1) has high hopes in coach Chris Collins' third season, but suffered a big blow when Olah went down with a stress reaction in his foot. The 7-foot senior is out indefinitely after averaging 18.7 points and 7.7 rebounds over his previous three games.

With the center sidelined, Collins opted to remove the redshirt on freshman Dererk Pardon. The 6-8 center made a huge impact in his second start, finishing with 28 points on 11-of-14 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds against the Cornhuskers.

''We thought we got a gem with him," Collins said. "He was an under-the-radar recruit that we felt had a chance to be really good, and his work ethic and his ability to be ready when called upon like he was when Alex went down was amazing.''

Tre Demps contributed 17 points Wednesday, though Bryant McIntosh hopes to bounce back after finishing with 11 on 4-of-14 shooting. The sophomore guard was coming off a career-high 33 in a 74-59 home win over Loyola (Maryland) on Sunday.

In the only meeting last season, McIntosh had 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting but the Wildcats couldn't hold on to a 14-point lead in a 68-67 road loss Jan. 25.

Northwestern ranks third among Big Ten teams by limiting opponents to 37.8 percent shooting, but it will have to figure out a way to contain Diamond Stone.

Stone set a freshman school-record with 39 points Wednesday, making program-record 19 free throws on 25 attempts with 12 rebounds as the Terrapins rallied for a 70-64 home win over Penn State.

"He's big and he can finish," said forward Robert Carter, who finished with 11 points and nine rebounds. "He has great hands and can finish."

Stone might need some help after the rest of the Terrapins shot 21.4 percent in the opener. Melo Trimble, who missed 12 of his 15 attempts, hopes to regroup as Maryland (12-1) looks to stay perfect since its 89-81 loss at then-No. 9 North Carolina on Dec. 1.

The Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year has averaged 10 points on 33.3 percent shooting in his last three games after scoring 15.8 while shooting 53.4 percent in his prior 10. He had 27 points to key the rally in last year's matchup in College Park.

The Terrapins, who finished second in their Big Ten debut last season, have won both meetings since the 1958-59 season. The Wildcats have dropped eight in a row versus ranked opponents following an 80-69 loss to the Tar Heels on Nov. 23.

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