Wisconsin’s poor shooting finally caught up to the Badgers. After finding ways to win games despite consistently shooting around 40 percent from the field, Wisconsin put itself in another tough spot by shooting 38 percent (19-for-50) against Northwestern.
Wisconsin was able to get off to a strong start to begin the first and second half but, like they have in recent games, they couldn’t sustain a rhythm on offense. Wisconsin started the first half 5-for-8 from the field before finishing 4-for-15. With Wisconsin down nine points at halftime, the Badgers quickly erased the deficit with a 10-0 run on 4-for-5 shooting from the field. Over the final 16:30 of the game, UW went 6-for-22 from the field. That kind of shooting won’t win many games.
Wisconsin had four players in double figures led by Nigel Hayes’ 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting from the field. Vitto Brown and D'Mitrik Trice each finished with 11 points on a combined 6-for-15 shooting, and Zak Showalter had 10 points on 3-for-5 shooting.
Bronson Koenig continues struggling shooting the ball, only managing to score two points (his lowest output since the loss to North Carolina) on 1-for-8 shooting from the field. Koenig’s lone make came in the second half when Wisconsin was chipping away at Northwestern’s lead.
It didn’t help matters that the Badgers couldn’t generate points in the paint, as Northwestern was doubling Ethan Happ and forcing him to become facilitator. Happ finish the game with a team-high five assists but committed four turnovers and made no field goals the final 35 minutes. Northwestern stuck with its game plan because the Badgers went 7-for-19 (36.8 percent) from three. With Happ being taken out of the game, the Badgers finishing with a season-low 12 points in the paint.
Wisconsin collected 10 offensive rebounds, including four by Hayes, but couldn’t do much with only eight second-chance points.
UW started out strong touching the post in the second half, resulting in that run that got the Badgers ahead with 16:32 remaining and continued to look inside, but got away from that by starting to take early 3-pointers in the shot clock when the deficit was seven and never got back to it.
Wisconsin had no answer for Bryant McIntosh, who was able to do a little bit of everything. Having scored at least 20 points in three straight games, McIntosh dropped 25 points on 10-for-23 shooting from the field. Showalter was able to play tough defense against him at times but he and his teammates couldn’t take the Northwestern junior out of an offensive rhythm or prevent him making some challenging shots.
If McIntosh wasn’t creating space against his defender or driving to the hoop, he was distributing the ball to one of his teammates, finishing with a team-high seven assists. Vic Law or Dererk Pardon benefited off of McIntosh’s presence, each finishing the game with 11 points (Law 3-for-12; Pardon 5-for-7). Northwestern finished the game 26-for-58 (44.8 percent) and 7-for-17 (41.2 percent) from three.
Once Wisconsin took the lead back early in the second half, the defense for Wisconsin couldn’t string together the stops in order to keep momentum. The ensuing possession after Northwestern lost the lead, Pardon drew a shooting foul against Happ and went 1-for-2 from the free throw line. Northwestern followed that offensive possession with a three by Law, thanks to a Happ turnover, to take the lead back for good. Northwestern shot 14-for-29 (48.28 percent) from the field in the second half.
To make matters worse, Wisconsin couldn’t kick start its offense by getting points in transition or off turnovers. Northwestern took excellent care of the ball, as the six turnovers represented the first time in 23 games UW didn’t force double-digit turnovers. Unable to take away passing lanes, Wisconsin snared only four steals and turned the six turnovers into eight points.
Northwestern finished the game with eight offensive rebounds, six coming in the second half to take some wind out of UW’s sails during its comeback attempt. Despite Wisconsin winning the rebounding battle 34-32, the Wildcats were able to find a way of grabbing offensive rebounds and generate quality looks around the rim with 26 points in the paint.
With Northwestern closing the first half on a 21-5 run over the last 10:07 of the first half, the Badgers were able to come out and respond the way you would expect a veteran team to in order to quickly erase a nine-point deficit. But just like how they started the first half, and several other games recently, the Badgers couldn’t find a way to sustain their scoring.
Give credit to Northwestern’s defense, which did a stellar job of smothering the Badgers’ offense and making sure Wisconsin was never comfortable. They were able to prevent Happ from getting clean looks by doubling him in the post, a plan that worked perfectly because they forced Happ into turnovers and Wisconsin’s perimeter players didn’t knock down shots.
Happ delivered a mini scoring run early to spark Wisconsin’s offense, responsible for scoring seven of UW’s first nine points, but the Wildcats made sure they weren’t going to allow him to carry the offense. After his last made field goal on the run came at 14:15, Happ went 0-for-4 from the field the rest of the game, only able to add two points to his total from the free throw line.
The wheels started to fall off for Wisconsin once they got up 19-12 with 7:56 to go in the first half. The Badgers went 1-for-7 from the field after that, allowing Northwestern to take control of the game over that stretch by moving the ball effectively and creating spacing to allow players to hit some uncontested threes. Fifteen of Northwestern’s final 19 points came from beyond the arc. It also didn’t help matters that over that stretch Wisconsin committed four of its 12 turnovers. The way Northwestern was shooting the ball, the Wildcats took full advantage of the mistakes by cashing them into 16 points (nine points off eight turnovers in the first half and seven off four turnovers in the second).
Game MVP: D’Mitrik Trice. It is hard to pick out a MVP but Trice led the Badgers in scoring in the second half with 11 points (3-for-7) in 16 minutes. Trice had been struggling with his shot over the last five games but shot the ball with confidence and was able to go 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the second half. Trice was active attacking the glass throughout the game, finishing with six defensive rebounds, and also registered one steal and an assist in the second half.