Jan. 18, 2009

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) -Craig Moore hit six 3-pointers and finished with 22 points to lead Northwestern over No. 18 Minnesota 74-65 Sunday for its first win over a ranked opponent in nearly three years.

Long a Big Ten doormat, the Wildcats (9-6, 1-4) have hinted that better days are coming. Well, this certainly was one.

The Wildcats had not beaten a Top 25 team since a three-point victory over then-No. 18 Iowa on Feb. 8, 2006. They had dropped 27 of 28 Big Ten games, including their first four this season.

Yet, there they were, going on a 16-0 run early in the second half to grab a 10-point lead and knocking off a Minnesota team that had done nothing but exceed expectations in coach Tubby Smith's second season.

So what happened Sunday?

The Golden Gophers (16-2, 4-2) simply stumbled - particularly in the second half - after winning at Wisconsin for the first time in nearly 15 years on Thursday.

Lawrence Westbrook scored 18 after pouring in 29 against the Badgers and Devoe Johnson added 14, but it wasn't enough to prevent the upset.

Minnesota led 34-31 at halftime and Westbrook's 3-pointer made it a six-point game less than two minutes into the second. From there? The Golden Gophers fell apart.

They missed 12 of their first 13 shots in the half and watched as Northwestern scored 16 straight to take a 47-37 lead. Moore hit three 3-pointers during that stretch, starting it with one and giving putting the Wildcats ahead 39-37 with another one.

That drew a loud roar from the crowd, but there was plenty more to cheer.

Kevin Coble converted a three-point play moments later, pumping his fist as his layup went through the net. He hit the free throw, and after several more misses by Minnesota, Moore made another 3 and fed Coble for a reverse layup after a steal to cap the run with 10:54 left.

Damian Johnson finally converted a layup for Minnesota, but back-to-back layups by Ivan Peljusic bumped Northwestern's lead to 51-39 midway through the half.

Minnesota never challenged after that.

The Wildcats had already shown they could hang with the best teams in the conference before this game. They just had nothing to show for it.

They failed to protect leads in losses to Penn State and then-No. 10 Michigan State, but the toughest loss came against No. 19 Purdue on Thursday night, when they blew a 14-point lead.

This time, there were no collapses. Just plenty of smiles.

Particularly for Moore, who hit 6 of 9 shots - all of them from 3-point range. Coble did much of his scoring at the foul line, where he went 9-for-9.