The first 20 minutes were more of the same sad story.
As Northwestern’s offense went dead, making just two shots in the second period and falling into the same familiar double-digit hole that we’ve come to know this season, it seemed like the Wildcats were prone to suffer their tenth straight conference defeat by a script we’ve read all too often. The game story title practically wrote itself: “Northwestern goes cold in XX-XX loss to Badgers.”
Through two quarters, the ‘Cats had shot under 19% from the field, including a dreadful 1-of-12 from beyond the arc. If that wasn’t enough, Wisconsin closed the half with a buzzer-beater three, seemingly putting a nail in the coffin in demoralizing fashion. The game was effectively over.
Until it wasn’t.
Often this season, Northwestern has gotten into a large deficit and struggled in the second half to even make it a competitive match. This was the case in blowout losses to Oregon, Notre Dame, Duke, Ohio State and Iowa. In the last three games, however, this has not been the case.
Instead of laying down and allowing themselves to get handed another defeat, the Wildcats came out of the halftime break with a message to prove, scoring an unprecedented 17 straight points after allowing a bucket to start the period. In just over four minutes, Northwestern had gone from another tough loss where the team failed to shoot well into the driver’s seat of potentially earning its first Big Ten win.
It wasn’t even the 17-0 run that led to the win, as Wisconsin fought back to retake the lead entering the fourth and had a five-point advantage with just five minutes to go. At last, the Wildcats united the best of both worlds with an effective offense and a shutdown defense, holding the Badgers without a made basket on their final seven attempts and complementing that with clutch scoring.
To an outside perspective, the win pushes Northwestern to a 1-9 Big Ten record and an 8-13 record overall. The Wildcats are still 14th in the Big Ten and shooting the lowest clip from the court total and beyond the arc in the conference. But to those who have consistently watched and been surrounded by this team, Sunday’s win may be the start of a trend. After playing tightly against Illinois a week ago and breaking its losing streak against Chicago State, the victory over the Badgers marks the third straight game Northwestern has truly played well as a unit.
For a team with so many young players that have struggled to present progress this season, the last week and a half show the ‘Cats have taken a step in the right direction. In the past two games, we’ve seen breakout performances from Caroline Lau and Paige Mott, as well as strong games from Caileigh Walsh, who scored 13 on 3-of-4 shooting from deep in the second half Sunday.
It is true that the Wildcats have struggled so far in the post-Veronica Burton era. It’s also true that the team is young and learning, and the progress Northwestern has shown over the last week should be a really encouraging sign moving forward. The team isn’t ready to compete for a title or the tournament, there’s no doubt about that, but to continue to build and improve over the latter part of the season would be a success bigger than the digit in the wins column.