WASHINGTON, DC — Northwestern’s 2017 Big Ten Tournament run, fittingly, became defined by runs.
After big runs keyed the Wildcats’ second round and quarterfinal wins over Rutgers and Maryland, respectively, Chris Collins’s group couldn’t find one to counter a potent Wisconsin attack in the team’s 76-48 loss Saturday afternoon.
The Badgers had answers — a timely three, an extra possession, a foul drawn — for every Northwestern (23-11, 10-8 Big Ten) spurt, even with them being few and far between.
In its first-ever Big Ten Tournament semifinal, the No. 6-seeded Wildcats came out sluggish, looking like a team that walked off the court just 16 hours earlier. Northwestern missed its first seven field goal attempts as third-seeded Wisconsin (25-8, 12-6) pushed out to an 15-3 lead, all scored by star guards Bronson Koenig and forward Nigel Hayes. Koenig, who struggled against Northwestern in the Wildcats’ upset win in Madison last month, scored all 8 of his points in the opening minutes. Hayes finished with a game-high 18 points.
But just as Northwestern had done the past two days in its wins over Rutgers and Maryland, it used a mid-first half run to get back in the game. A Nathan Taphorn three and a Bryant McIntosh floater on the ensuing possession sparked a 9-1 run to shave down the Badgers’ lead to 16-12.
While Hayes and Koenig controlled the start, Wisconsin turned to the third member of its trio of stars, center Ethan Happ, as it closed the half. Over the final four minutes, Happ poured in 9 of his 16 total points, as the Badgers closed the half strong to grow their lead to 17 at the break, 38-21.
Following the intermission, it was more of the same. Northwestern could not contain Wisconsin like it did in its previous win as the Badgers hit 27 of 57 (47.4 percent) from the field, a marked improvement compared to when they shot 19-50 from the field earlier this season. That was something Collins was worried about ahead of Saturday’s matchup. Despite holding the Badgers to just 59 points previously, he acknowledged that Wisconsin missed a bunch of open looks from the perimeter.
Scottie Lindsey, who missed the first meeting between the two teams during his bout with mono, led the Wildcats with 16 points, shooting 5-10 (50 percent). Otherwise, Vic Law and Bryant McIntosh combined for just 12 points between the two of them.
Dererk Pardon added 7 points and 7 rebounds.
Wisconsin’s win sets up a matchup with Michigan in the tournament finals Sunday.
Northwestern will have to wait a bit longer to see when, where and against whom its next game will come. Likely to secure the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth, the Wildcats will learn their seed, opponent and location when the bracket is announced Sunday afternoon.