Another night, another tough loss for the Wildcats (6-7, 3-6 B1G). On Wednesday the team fell 68-52 to the Wisconsin Badgers (12-3, 6-2 B1G) in Madison, dropping them to below .500 on the season. This was their sixth loss in a row, and all have been by at least 10 points.
Entering this Big Ten matchup, both Northwestern and No. 10 Wisconsin were top 5 in turnovers, and that certainly was a prevalent factor. Combining for 18 total turnovers (NU - 10, UW - 8) both teams were far too careless with the ball, and in a game of swings like basketball, one costly turnover can certainly swing the momentum.
Offensively, this game was very strong on both sides ... that is to say, both teams seemed to struggle getting stops. Northwestern shot 41% from the field while Wisconsin shot 43%. Arguably the two most prominent differentiating factors, however, was the 7% disparity in three-point percentage, favoring Wisconsin, and the seven extra rebounds in their favor as well. Northwestern dug themselves into a hole quite early in the game, going down 12 points, and they were trying to catch up for the rest of the night.
Chase Audige had a nice performance with the ball, dropping 16 points on 50% floor shooting. Unfortunately, there were far too many mental errors that may have come at moments when we thought Northwestern was pulling back into the game. After hitting a 3-point shot, Audige decided to clap back at the Wisconsin bench, earning him a technical and giving Wisconsin a free 2 points. Late in the game, when the ‘Cats were making what would be their final effort to pull within reach, Audige was almost able to make a key contribution in the paint but lost the basket due to the technical, leading to a massive shift in momentum.
“I love his energy, I love his competitiveness, he wants to help … but he’s a player that hasn’t played a lot of college basketball,” Northwestern Coach Chris Collins said after the game. “As coaches we need to work with him to channel that aggression, but we don't want to take the aggression from him because that’s what makes him good ... you just need to learn at this level what you can and can’t do.”
For the Wildcats, the game at large overshadowed Audige’s problems. The Wildcats hung around, but ultimately the Badgers pulled away.
“Every moment when I thought we were about to get back into the game, we made a mistake, they hit a good shot, and all of a sudden we were back out of it,” Collins said.
They Wildcats finish what has been a brutal stretch of seven games against ranked opponents.
“It has been an incredibly tough stretch, but it’s not an excuse,” Collins said. He was also quick to defend his guys. “I’m not sure how many of the last six games you guys thought we were going to win.”
Big picture, Northwestern’s 3-0 start still keeps them in the Big Ten mix for now at 3-6, especially in terms of the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s on us as a staff to make sure the guys know the big picture of the conference," Collins said. "This league is going to get a lot of bids at the end, so we just need to stay focused.”
Hopefully the ‘Cats can turn this thing around and finish how they started.