Northwestern's Mirkovic making an impression

INDIANAPOLIS –Sophomore Luka Mirkovic is often the forgotten Northwestern starter.

There’s Michael Thompson, John Shurna, Drew Crawford, Jeremy Nash and … oh yeah, Luka Mirkovic, most would say.

For one, interior play isn’t the Wildcats’ strength, and, secondly, Mirkovic isn’t the overwhelming type of player. Being 6-foot-11, Mirkovic simply fills Northwestern’s need for a big man. What coach Bill Carmody gets from him depends on the day.

On Thursday, Mirkovic provided little. He had zero points, five rebounds and fouled out in 18 minutes. For the season, he has averaged 7.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.

But during the first half of Friday’s Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal against Purdue, Mirkovic chipped in a big way, and he did so with a little move.

After the Wildcats had already seen how Purdue center JaJuan Johnson can dominate the paint after rejecting two shots in the game’s opening five minute, Mirkovic was willing to take another shot at scoring inside. This time, though, Mirkovic learned from his teammates’ mistakes. He got the ball, faked, got Johnson in the air, went up and was fouled.

With 14:41 left in the first half, Johnson picked up his second foul, and Boilermakers coach Matt Painter was forced to go the bench. Without Johnson on the floor and Purdue unable to turn to injured Robbie Hummel to play inside, Northwestern was at even ground with the Boilermakers inside.

When Northwestern began to pull away in the opening half without Johnson and went up 14-4 at one point, Painter knew he needed Johnson badly on the floor, was willing to risk another foul and put him back into the game. Purdue rallied with Johnson and cut Northwestern’s lead, but the Wildcats still were able to take a 34-30 advantage into halftime.

Mirkovic would pick up his second foul shortly after Johnson’s and would sit for the half’s final 14:13, but his contributions had already been made. He had scored two points, dished out three and caused one costly foul.

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.