Wisconsin's defense regresses in 70-65 loss at Northwestern

BadgerNation analyzes the game and hands out the grades from Wisconsin's 70-65 loss at Northwestern Tuesday night.

Offense: C-

Wisconsin held the lead four different times against Northwestern, with the last lead occurring at 47-45 with 9:06 to go in the second half. But after Zak Showalter put Wisconsin up by two points off a made 3-pointer, things slowly started to fall apart for the offense. As a result the momentum crept on to Northwestern’s side, and Wisconsin could never get it back.

Wisconsin shot 13-for-28 (46.4 percent) from the field in the second half, 24-for-51 (47.1 percent) in the game and 7-for-21 (33.3 percent) from 3-point range. But the way Wisconsin played the last nine minutes of the game looked nothing like a team that shot above 46 percent, as Wisconsin shot 4-for-14 from the field, two of which were tip-ins by Khalil Iverson in the final 22 seconds with the game slowly getting out of reach. UW stayed in the game at the free throw line by going 9-for-11 over the last 4:04.   

Tuesday was another case of Wisconsin failing to sustain offensive success for long periods of time, especially when you consider UW started the game 2-for-10 from the field over the first seven minutes, including a pair of scoring droughts of over three minutes to dig a 9-point hole.

Wisconsin was able to fight back from the early deficit by attacking the low post, cutting into the lead when players moved and cut to the rim to generate open looks. When Wisconsin started to make its move, six of the first 10 points following the 9-point deficit came in the paint. Overall, 10 of Wisconsin’s last 19 points in the first half were registered in the paint, as the Badgers finished the game with 18 points around the rim.

But even when Wisconsin was able to take the lead, the offense never built a lead larger than two points. And it’s not like UW didn’t have chances to capitalize off empty Northwestern possessions.

After only five players scored in the loss against Maryland, Wisconsin got production from seven players in the first 20 minutes and had Bronson Koenig score all nine of his points after halftime. Nigel Hayes led Wisconsin with 17 points, Ethan Happ was second with 12 points and Showalter finished with eight points and a team high seven assists. After playing only 18 minutes against Maryland, Vitto Brown (four points) saw less playing time as for a second consecutive game. Alex Illikainen (six points in 21 minutes) registered more time then Brown (four points in 14 minutes).

Defense: D

It was the Bryant McIntosh show throughout the game, as he started strong and stepped up when Northwestern needed him to keep Wisconsin at bay. McIntosh finished with 28 points on 10-for-19 shooting in 37 minutes of work, his best shooting performance in Big Ten play to date.

The defense for Wisconsin simply didn’t execute off ball screens on McIntosh, as he registered eight of the team’s first 12 points and registered an assist on the other two field goals, McIntosh finished with five assists, not to mention scoring 13 (4-for-6 from the field, 4-for-6 from the free throw line) of Northwestern’s last 25 points to end the game after Wisconsin took the 47-45 lead.

Overall Northwestern shot 22-for-46 (47.8 percent) from the field and 11-for-22 in the second half. McIntosh was the only Wildcat to reach double figures, as Aaron Falzon and Sanjay Lumpkin each scored nine points on a combined 4-for-8 from the field. Tre Demps was third with eight points on 3-for-10 shooting from the field in 39 minutes.

McIntosh’s success started by him hitting two floaters to start the game, which opened up opportunities for his teammates. When Wisconsin tried to cut off any driving lane, it resulted in McIntosh finding an open teammate near the basket thanks to his good court vision. That helped Northwestern score 18 of its 26 first-half points in the paint, a trend that continues with the Wildcats pounding the paint relentlessly for 30 points.

Northwestern didn’t make a field goal in the final 2:59 but scored its final nine points from the free throw line. Overall Northwestern went 22-for-34 (64.7 percent) from line, including scoring 20 of Northwestern’s 44 points.

The only poor thing McIntosh did was commit five of Northwestern’s 10 turnovers. Even with the miscues, UW could convert them into seven points.

Overall: D

Even though Wisconsin had the lead four different times and the game was tied twice, Northwestern always felt in control from the start because of McIntosh, who could create what he wanted for himself or his teammates on offense.

UW’s lapses on defense and inability to play off screens allowed McIntosh to get into a rhythm in the second half, scoring 20 of his 28 points. One never would have known McIntosh had been struggling with his shot entering the game since the Badgers couldn’t consistently contest his shot or alter his rhythm.

UW finished with one block, allowing Northwestern to consistently get high percentage shots. With the frontcourt not playing well, it meant Northwestern was able to create second chance opportunities. The Wildcats secured 11 offensive rebounds, including two by four different players, and scored 11 points.

It was surprising to see Wisconsin allow Northwestern so many second chance opportunities, as the Badgers had done a good job this season of limiting those situations.

Not only that, UW had been able to grab and convert off offensive rebounds. Wisconsin only finished the game with seven offensive rebounds, resulting in only four points. Despite Northwestern not having Alex Olah due to injury, the Wildcats were able to consistently box out Wisconsin to make sure the Badgers could never establish a consistent rhythm on offense. For a second straight game Wisconsin lost the rebounding battle, 34-25, as 20 of Northwestern’s 34 rebounds came in the second half.  

The limited second chances also meant Wisconsin couldn’t find second chances or draw fouls. The Wildcats finished with only 17 team fouls and only Hayes (6-for-7) and Happ (4-for-6) got to the free throw line.

The bench for Wisconsin did some nice things, as Illikainen and Iverson led the way with six points each and both shot 3-for-4 from the field. While Jordan Hill finished with three assists and one turnover, he scored only three points on 1-for-6 shooting, including three airballs.

Iverson registered two of Wisconsin’s eight steals in the last 2:39 of the game but they didn’t generate into any points. Iverson’s first steal was a perfect snapshot of how the game went and how the season has gone for Wisconsin. Iverson made an athletic steal off an inbound pass and find Happ inside the paint, but Happ couldn’t find a way to convert. Instead of cutting the lead to four points, UW was forced to foul and that was that.

Game MVP: Nigel Hayes. While he had his struggles, Hayes was the more consistent scorer for UW with 17 points on 5-for-10 shooting, including scoring 12 points on 3-for-6 from the field and 6-for-7 from the free throw line in the second half. Hayes tied with Happ for the team lead with six rebounds, was second on the team with six assists and registered a steal. 

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