Chase Audige ’17 and the Northwestern University men’s basketball team opened the season last night with a 69-49 exhibition win over Quincy University.
Earlier this week, Alex Cervantes profiled the former Bear in The Daily Northwestern.
Audige is Healthy and Ready to Roll for Northwestern in 2022-23
For the first time in a full calendar year, Chase Audige is 100 percent healthy.
Audige, who graduated in June, spent most of his time in the offseason in Evanston and Chicago — with a couple quick trips home — working back to full strength after a hip injury. He said this summer felt like the first time he “had a really true preseason,” regaining strength mentally and physically.
The redshirt senior guard missed Northwestern’s first seven games last season with injury before returning to the court still hobbled.
Nevertheless, Audige endured the pain, starting in all 24 of his appearances as his form took a dip from his first year in Evanston. The New York native’s scoring and shooting splits dropped considerably, tallying just 9.8 points per game on 33.8 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent from beyond the arc.
“I was playing on basically one leg,” Audige said. “Last year it just felt like every game I was trying to find myself. … So it was kind of just like me getting my legs under me and finding my shot. And then obviously when you’re doing that, your numbers are gonna go up and down.”
His marked struggle was a departure from the initial bar he set after he arrived at NU from William & Mary.
After sitting out in 2019-20 due to NCAA transfer rules, Audige led the Wildcats in scoring with 12.3 points per game. His first season in Evanston prompted some considerable hype heading into year two, but that was derailed by his preseason injury.
Still, coach Chris Collins thrust Audige into the starting lineup upon his return. In his first game back on Dec. 5, 2021 at Maryland, he played for 26 minutes, scoring 14 points on 7-for-17 shooting. His effort helped produce a six-point victory for NU, pushing the squad’s record to 6-2.
Much like the Cats’ season though, the peaks and valleys of Audige’s next 23 games were extreme.
His back-and-forth battle with eventual lottery pick Johnny Davis and No. 8 Wisconsin, which saw Audige put up 23 points, was one of the highlights of the season despite the loss.
The following week, Audige scored just 14 points in three matchups, going a combined 5-for-18 from the field. He tallied at least 12 points in each of four consecutive games in early February, but then recorded a mere three points in the following two starts.
While Audige’s roller-coaster season labored on, he still dealt with the effects of injury. Regardless, Audige said playing on the injured leg is not an excuse, as he made the decision to suit up. But the scope of the situation proved important as he assessed his level of play last year.
“Last season is really hard for me to judge,” Audige said. “It got to the point where I didn’t look at my numbers. (What mattered) was just that I was going out there and (playing) hard every day.”
Collins said Audige was playing “catch up” when he returned to the team but gave him credit for continuing to battle.
Regardless, last season’s struggles are behind him, and it’s time to turn the page.
Audige is one of four returning starters for Collins and NU, but the team also lost five players this offseason, notably frontcourt cogs Pete Nance and Ryan Young.
Collins has made it clear this team will ebb and flow based on the performance of the perimeter, in particular the play of Audige, senior guard Boo Buie, and senior forward Robbie Beran.
“It was great for Chase to have the whole offseason to really focus on his game,” Collins said. “The biggest thing you see is just he’s got his legs underneath him.”
Collins said everything about Audige’s game — his body, his movement, and his confidence — has returned in full force. Most importantly of all, the man in his 10th year at the helm of Cats basketball believes Audige is “primed” to not only return to form, but exceed his play from two years ago, both offensively and defensively.
While Audige will shoulder a hefty portion of the offensive load, he said that both his play and leadership this season will start on the defensive end.
“I’ve always been a guy that hangs my hat on defense, no matter whether my shot’s falling or not,” Audige said. “Playing defense, giving energy, and (using) my voice. I feel like I can be very demonstrative (but) also being caring and a good teammate.”
Defense may win championships, yet scoring is just as critical — especially for an offense that lost 45.6 percent of its scoring this summer.
Despite last season’s shooting woes, Audige remains confident in his shooting stroke. He said his focus on mechanics in the preseason, coupled with reps, will hopefully pay dividends when NU takes the court.
“I can get to the rim, I can shoot pull-ups (and) I feel like I’m a much better three-point shooter than last year and even my first year here,” Audige said of his offensive game. “I feel like I can do everything, so whatever the defense presents, I’ll take it.”
The upcoming season is one of considerable magnitude for the Cats. Coming off the heels of a fifth consecutive losing campaign, Collins was given an ultimatum by Athletic Director Derrick Gragg of “making necessary changes” to get the program out of its rut. Meanwhile, Audige is looking to quell any notion that last season’s struggles remain a hindrance.
As for what to expect heading into a fresh campaign of hoops, Audige said this season will look a lot different than the last.
“The energy is different,” Audige said. “If you were to come watch our practices, (you’ll) definitely sense a new toughness. We’re really banging bodies, (in) practice we’re talking smack. In past years we weren’t doing all that. It’s just a hunger to win, a hunger to go out there and compete.”