Northwestern (9-6 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) played an aggressive press defense, which for most of the first half forced the Badgers to take contested shots and make turnovers. For the first 16 minutes, the Badgers (14-2, 4-0) shot 7 of 22 and committed six turnovers. UW clung to a 21-18 lead with 4:11 remaining in the first half.
"I thought there were some (opportunities) there in the first half, and [Wisconsin] started off a little slow with shooting, but we didn't really capitalize," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "They had a stretch where they turned the ball a bunch of times . . . but we were doing the same thing down on the other end. It's only a matter of time before they get going."
A four-minute stretch to end the first half gave Wisconsin a momentum swing and a 37-25 lead heading into the second half. Leading by three, the Badgers went on a 16-7 run in the last four minutes, benefiting from the hot shooting of senior guard Ray Nixon, who knocked down two 3s.
"The ball went in the basket and (the Wildcats) were struggling at that point," Badger head coach Bo Ryan said. "We knocked some shots down. We were a little more patient. I thought once we gained our composure a little bit and used some ball reversal and touch in the post, which everybody needs to do, what we did was we respected the game a lot better during that run. When you respect the game, it tends to reward your team more."
Alando Tucker displayed his athleticism with a steal and two layups in that stretch. The forward finished with a game-high 20 points, game- and career-high four steals and seven rebounds. Guard Kammron Taylor made a layup and had three assists in the last four minutes of the first half and finished with a game- and career-high eight rebounds, 14 points and four assists.
"I just tried to contribute as much as I could," said Nixon, who finished with 13 points on 5 of 9 shooting, including 3 of 7 from beyond the arc. "They were playing up higher and putting a lot of pressure on the point guard so I just tried to find open shots and hope my teammates can get me the ball."
While Wisconsin went on its late-half run, Northwestern continued to struggle, making 3 of 7 shots and turning the ball over twice in that span. Vedran Vukusic, Northwestern's star forward who led the Big Ten in points per game with 21.8 going into Saturday's contest, was of little help. He went 1-for-3 during that stretch and 6-for-15 overall, scoring just 15 points in the game in 37 minutes, while committing four personal fouls. Freshman forwards Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft spent most of the game guarding Vukusic.
"When you have a good player like that that can shoot outside, post you inside, can attack the rim with a hard dribble," Ryan said. "You just do the best you can and make him work."
Taylor hit a big 3-pointer to open the second half and the Badgers never looked back, steadily building an 18-point lead at 68-50 with two minutes remaining.
The Badgers were 24 of 55 from the field (44 percent) in the game but finished just 5 of 22 from 3-point range. Northwestern, meanwhile, continued to struggle and shot just 35 percent (18 of 51) in the game.
Wisconsin dominated on the boards, finishing with 40 rebounds to Northwestern's 28. And the Wildcats committed 19 turnovers to Wisconsin's 13.
"I think that's probably the most turnovers we've had all year—we're only averaging about 11 turnovers a game," Carmody said. "They're not pressing you, they're not really overplaying, they're just fundamentally sound."
Northwestern had averaged 12 turnovers in three Big Ten games prior to Saturday, and its previous season high was 18. The Wildcats, though, actually enjoyed the best shooting performance of any of Wisconsin's Big Ten foes this season.