What does Northwestern need to do to take down tough No. 2 seed UCLA?
Just getting to the NCAA Tournament could have been enough for Northwestern.
This is not a basketball program with a long history of success, so earning an invite to participate in March Madness for only the second time in school history is something to celebrate.
"I'm so proud of this team," Wildcats coach Chris Collins told reporters. "I've said it all year long. I'm happy for these guys, man. They've been so loyal to this program. They've stayed true to our mission."
Even though it came into the year with five straight losing seasons and was projected to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten, Northwestern's mission was riding veteran guards Boo Buie and Chase Audige and winning games.
Highlighted by a 64-58 decision over No. 1-ranked Purdue on Feb. 12 at Welsh-Ryan Arena, the Wildcats won a school record 12 conference games, went 21-11 overall and earned a No. 7 seed in the NCAA West Region.
With Buie scoring 22 points and Audige dropping in 20, NU knocked off No. 10 seed Boise State 75-67 Thursday night in Sacramento, Calif.
"It's been Chase and I this whole way leading this thing," Buie said. "Our leadership. It feels good. It feels good to be able to go out there and get a win."
The next mission is much more difficult -- dealing with a tough No. 2 seed UCLA in the second round. The Wildcats play the Bruins at 7:40 Saturday night on TNT with the winner advancing to the Sweet 16.
Northwestern should be able to compete with UCLA if the guards get going again. In addition to Buie and Audige, Ty Berry hit 3 of 4 three-pointers and scored 13 points vs. Boise State.
"I say it all the time, whatever sport you're in, when you get to where it really matters, your best players have to be there for you," Collins said. "If you're going to advance in this tournament, you advance because these guys are going to lead the way. To have those guys come out and play the way they did, it's why we won. Then everyone else starred in their role. "Brooks (Barnhizer) is playing well. Robbie (Beran), Nick (Martinelli, Glenbrook South H.S.), Tydus (Verhoeven) and Matt (Nicholson), all those guys are equally as valuable with what they bring to the table. Everyone understands what their role is. Not only do they understand it, but they work hard to star in their roles. That's when you have a good team, and that's who we've been all year long."
The Wildcats are going to have to be great to beat a UCLA team that is 30-5 and blew out UNC-Asheville 86-53 in the first round.
The Bruins are led by 6-foot-7 guard Jaime Jaquez Jr., who averaged 17.3 points ad 8.1 rebounds per game while winning Pac-12 Player of the Year honors.
Guard Tyger Campbell, who originally committed to DePaul before switching to UCLA, averages 13.4 points and 4.9 assists per game.
"If we lose now, my entire season's done," Jaquez said. "I don't think it's very hard to get me going, or any of the rest of the guys for that matter. We try to get the young guys to understand this, understand that this is a one-and-out tournament and we don't want this to end."
Northwestern feels the same way and it's no surprise the Wildcats are rallying around the lack of respect they faced heading into the season.
"Ever since we met day one as a team in the summer, when there was a lot of negativity being spoke about what was the future of this program, we didn't have enough talent, the coach doesn't know what he's doing, all those things, we got together and we just said, like, 'We have enough,'" Collins said. "Forget what the outside noise is. From that day forward, it's been about winning."