Northwestern fought hard, rallying from a big halftime deficit and getting as close as 1, but couldn't execute down the stretch and continued their 0-for at the Kohl Center.
The 'Cats opened the game in a match-up zone, and it didn't slow down Wisconsin in the slightest, as NU couldn't get a stop until more than 6 minutes had gone by. Bill Carmody eventually switched to a 1-3-1 zone, but that got destroyed in the first half as well, as Wisconsin shot an absurd 75% from the field in the first half and only had 2 turnovers. Northwestern shot a solid 50% for the first half and game, but still found themselves down by 14 going into the second half. The NU defense really stunk in the first half; the Badgers basically got any shot they wanted, but the biggest play of the first half actually came on the defensive end, when Jon Leuer came out of nowhere to block a Davide Curletti lay-up that would have made it a 1 point game with about 6 minutes left. Wisconsin then went on a run to close the half.
In the second half, Northwestern traded baskets for a while before finally clamping down on defense, thanks to some full court pressure and a more active zone. Jeremy Nash forced some turnovers at the top of the 1-3-1, and 'the Cats clawed their way back into the game. John Shurna had a huge afternoon offensively, finishing with a game high 26 points, but after suffering a minor ankle sprain with about 3 minutes left while fighting for a rebound, he missed 2 good looks down the stretch, most notably a wide open 5 foot jumper that would have tied the score with a minute to go. On Wisconsin's next possession, Shurna was called for a highly questionable foul while rebounding a Badger miss, and Tim Jarmusz (who had a very tough night defensively trying to stay with Shurna) hit one of two to make it a 3 point game with about 30 seconds left. Then came the fateful last possession, that ended with Leuer rejecting Michael Thompson on a lay-up attempt. Wisconsin then hit their free throws for the final margin.
Despite having timeouts in his pocket, Carmody elected not to use one to draw up a play and let the offense run. I personally thought he should have used one, but that would have allowed Wisconsin to set their defense and he did have all the right players out there, so it certainly wasn't a huge error. The huge error was made by Thompson, who failed to get the ball into the hands of Shurna and instead drove into the trees and saw his shot easily swatted by Leuer. I'm sure a lot of this is fatigue from all the minutes he's played, but Juice had a terrible game, finishing with just 8 points, no assists, 2 turnovers, and 2 stupid defensive plays where he didn't close out under control and fouled a jump shooter. It had to have been his worst performance of the season.
As for the rest of the 'Cats, Nash, Drew Crawford and Luka Mirkovic had 8 points apiece, and Curletti had 5 off the bench. Crawford did have one nice 3-point play early in the 2nd half (on an NBA style continuation), but once again I was very disappointed in his defensive play. Several times he gambled for steals in bad spots and got burned, and also didn't go after loose balls as hard as I would have liked to see. Mirkovic strangely got only 22 minutes, and while he looked awkward at times in the low post, he did hit a three and make one nice move on Leuer, and also had 2 key offensive rebounds in the 2nd half. Curletti also hit an open three at the top of the key, and while he's a bit undersized, I certainly think he brings more to the table than Rowley, so hopefully he continues to be the number 2 option at center. I also hope to see less of Mike Capocci in the future, who was scoreless in 11 minutes and got burned a couple times on defense.
It's hard to get too disappointed in a close loss at Wisconsin, where the Badgers are extremely tough to beat at home, but it's so easy to play the what-if game after a performance like this. What if they'd actually played some defense in the first half? What if they'd put in this kind of effort against Penn State or Iowa? And so on. After the first 25 minutes I was ready to tear into this team the entire recap, but they showed a lot of heart late in the game; unfortunately it was a case of too little too late. There were a couple bright spots, namely the outstanding play of John Shurna, who did most of his damage off the dribble and in the paint instead of from the 3-point line, and the emergence of Davide Curletti as a competent back-up center, but the bottom line is this was another loss. Hopefully they can build on this and finish the season strong on the way to a run in the Big Ten tournament, but it's going to take 40 minutes of solid play a night to accomplish that, and I'm not sure this team can pull that off.