As the Big Ten has learned in the past from Wisconsin, a foreign offense can throw a stick into an opponent’s wheel. With their Princeton inspired offense of quirks and cuts, Northwestern was able to bob and weave through Wisconsin in the second half, putting a temporary flat in the Badgers postseason hopes.
“We couldn’t break down on defense,” said Freddie Owens, who was UW’s only positive ray of light in the second half. “Their offense is really unique. They use a lot of handoffs and backdoors that can confuse you.”
After the Badgers put the clamps on the Wildcats the first ten minutes of the game, as the Wildcats had a mere 11 points with 7:20 left in the first half. But after a timeout, Northwestern was able to find its groove at the end of the first half, and it carried over till the end of the game.
Bill Carmody’s club was able to exploit the Badgers four guard offense, attacking the basket and getting clearer looks at the basket all second half. The big run of the game was midway through the second half, as the Wildcats were able to take Wisconsin off the dribble for three lay-ups to build a ten-point lead.
“Using four guards is something we’ve done before,” said UW coach Bo Ryan. “We were trying to guard the cuts and attack the gaps.”
The scheme didn’t work, as the Wildcats shot 50 percent in the second half, and were able to brush off Wisconsin’s runs by consistently finding the open shot.
The main casualty of Northwestern’s offense effectiveness was Kirk Penney, who was lit up by the Wildcat’s Winston Blake for 23 points, 15 of which came in the second half. Blake was hitting from all ends of the floor, especially from the free-throw line, where he was 9 for 11.
“Winston’s three was big when Owens was wiping us out,” said Carmody, whose team helped themselves for a possible postseason birth. “That quieted them down a bit.”
Penney dissapeard in the second half, partly due to the clinic put on by Owens, but mostly to the defense of the Wildcats. Penney, who had 10 points, rarely saw the ball down the stretch, forcing a three-point attempt with 55 seconds left that proved to be the knockout blow to Wisconsin.
As the Badgers waffled as the game winded down, Northwestern was solid, especially from the charity stripe, which proved to be the difference in the game.
“They were much more aggressive in the second half,” Owens said. “They were able to draw some fouls on us that gave them a chance to get to the free-throw line.”
Wisconsin has been able to get solid play out of its forwards during the last month, winning four out of the last five, but Charlie Wills, Dave Mader and Mike Wilkinson did not even make a blip on the radar Wednesday night. The trio combined for a meager 13 points, with Mader playing a mere 29 seconds in the second half, and Wills plagued by foul trouble late in the game. Postseason: With the loss to Northwestern, the Badgers stand at 12-10 (5-4 in Big Ten). With a treacherous schedule on the horizon that includes games at Indiana, Minnesota and at home against Ohio State, the Badgers will have to pull an upset to have an outside shot if they have any chance at making their fourth straight NCAA Tournament. “This loss stings really bad,” Owens said. “But we’ve got to get over it really quickly.”