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Northwestern 70, Stanford 62: winning ugly

After doing just about everything in their power to let Stanford stay in the game, Northwestern finally pulled away in the final 2 minutes for an 8 point win. The 'Cats had a 10 point lead with 4 minutes to go, but went into try not to lose mode, not looking to score on offense and playing lackadaisical defense. Two and a half minutes later, the Cardinal were within one, but Juice Thompson buried a critical three and NU finally started hitting free throws to make the final margin eight points.

Northwestern shot the ball very poorly in this game, going just 6 for 25 from 3 point range and 22 for 33 from the foul line. They did do a good job of attacking the basket, as they got most of Stanford's starters in foul trouble. John Shurna led the way with 22 points, with most of them coming in the paint, including one excellent up and under move in the low post for a 3-point play. The downside for Shurna is that he continues to struggle from outside, hitting just 1 for 6 on threes. Drew Crawford looked really good on offense early in the game, but played just 20 minutes after getting in foul trouble. Luka Mirkovic had his second straight good game, with 9 points, 6 rebounds and a team high 5 assists. I still get very nervous whenever he tries to post someone up though.

On defense, there was some good and some bad. At times the 1-3-1 zone was dominant, as NU forced 18 turnovers. Jeremy Nash and Alex Marcotullio both had excellent defensive games with 3 steals each. Marcotullio in particular was all over the place on defense, and despite poor shooting contributed a lot in 19 minutes. The bad on defense was several breakdowns, letting Stanford's best shooters get wide open. That was bad, but what was most frustrating was when Luka Mirkovic was matched up 1 on 1 with Cardinal star Landry Fields. Fields is an outstanding scorer and athlete, so he's going to get his points, but not helping Mirkovic on the perimeter is basically conceding 2 points. This happened twice and both times it led to easy shots.

In past seasons, a win over a power conference team (even over one of the worst teams in the worst power conference) would be cause for celebration at Northwestern, regardless of how the 'Cats looked. But if this team is going to contend for the NCAA tournament this season, it's going to take a much much better effort than what they showed today. I understand that bad shooting games happen, no team can shoot the lights out from the perimeter every night. But effort and killer instinct down the stretch should show up every game. When you have a 10 point lead with 4 minutes left, the goal cannot be to just kill the clock and hope the team you're playing sucks too much to come back. We saw this from Northwestern last year in the collapses against Purdue and Illinois, and this would have been another loss today against any halfway decent team. The goal when you have a late lead should be to win the final few minutes. If I see another game where the 'Cats don't even try to attack the basket til the shot clock is under ten, I'm going to break something. And another thing, try actually playing some defense. Sagging off one of the few Stanford players who can hit an outside shot is a terrible idea. They did a good job on Green all game, trapping him and forcing him to pass, and then down the stretch they play off him and let him score 9 straight points. What the hell is that? The coaching staff is going to have to correct this in a hurry, because against Big Ten team not named Iowa, they probably blow the 10 point lead.

As frustrated as I am right now, I need to remind myself that a win is still a win, and that a 9-1 record is way better than anyone expected. They'll have one final chance to work out the kinks before Big Ten play starts, Tuesday against Central Connecticut State. See you then.

overdue edit: highlights!