Northwestern had the chance to pull off the impossible on Wednesday night: win consecutive conference games.
The Wildcats (7-22, 2-17 B1G) haven’t accomplished such a feat since taking down Rutgers and Indiana back-to-back in January of 2019. Could they make it happen on Wednesday night against a red-hot Wisconsin team?
No, they could not.
NU fell to the No. 24 Badgers (20-10, 13-6) 63-48 on the road, giving Wisconsin its seventh win in a row and a spot tied atop the conference standings. Pete Nance led all scorers on the night with 14, his highest total of the calendar year, but it was a balanced scoring attack from the Badgers that got the job done for Greg Gard’s team on senior night. Six different Wisconsin players finished with eight or more points.
The Badgers started the game lights out from beyond the arc. Knocking down their first four attempts from three-point range, they neutralized man-to-man and zone looks from the Wildcat defense. A poor shooting start for the Cats gave Wisconsin a quick 16-5 lead.
Northwestern did manage to stop the bleeding defensively for a period, forcing seven-straight empty possessions. The Cats, however, proved equally inept on the offensive end over the same stretch, walking away without points on eight-consecutive possessions of its own. 10 minutes into the first half, NU had failed to reach double digits on the scoreboard.
The game appeared to be in jeopardy of getting permanently out of hand when the Badgers stretched the lead to 16 with less than eight minutes to go in the half. To add to the Northwestern misery, Jared Jones and Ryan Young missed wide open layups on back-to-back trips down the floor.
The ‘Cats, though, flipped a switch with a little over five minutes remaining in the first period of play. Pete Nance provided a much needed spark off the bench, drilling a three before earning consecutive three-point play opportunities. A Jones layup capped off a 15-4 NU run and cut the deficit to just four points.
Wisconsin answered with a bucket of its own on its last possession of the half, giving the Badgers a 34-28 lead headed into the break. Nance led the ‘Cats with eight points while also adding four rebounds. Despite shooting 43 percent from three-point range, NU converted on just 34.5 percent of its first-half field goals.
Despite their own dreadful display with the ball in their hands, the ‘Cats held Wisconsin at bay as a result of their own stingy defensive effort. The Badgers struggled mightily themselves on the offensive end to start the half, sinking just three of their first 12 attempts. Still, Wisconsin was able to stretch its lead back to 15 with just under eight minutes to go in the game.
A Nance alley-oop finish broke a nine-minute scoring drought from the field for NU, but that’s about the only notable thing that would happen for the ‘Cats from there on out. The Badgers maintained their double-digit lead for the rest of the game as Northwestern’s offense failed to take advantage of some remarkably easy looks and surprisingly solid play on the defensive side of things.
No one could buy a bucket besides Nance, who was the only Wildcat to finish in double figures with 14 on the night.
NU finished a lowly 32 percent from the field and knocked down a miserable 21 percent of its shots from beyond the arc. The lid was truly on the basket for the ‘Cats all night.
The Wildcats will conclude their regular season slate with a Saturday senior day matchup against No. 20 Penn State at Welsh-Ryan Arena.