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Northwestern can hang with the powerhouses of the Big Ten, but it has to clean up lingering mistakes

The issues plaguing NU all season cost the ‘Cats a spot at the top of the conference.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Wisconsin Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports

Despite their 71-63 loss to No. 15 Wisconsin, it is hard to be too down about the Wildcats.

On a dreary, snowy day in Madison, it seemed that the ‘Cats carried the freezing cold into their shooting. NU shot 42% from the field, but only 28% from three. Outside of Boo Buie, the rest of the team combined a 3-of-14 from deep. For a team that relies heavily on the long ball, an off day should have doomed the Wildcats from the tip. However, the opposite occurred.

With 4:16 left in the game, Ty Berry’s three hit every part of the hoop, and somehow, someway, rattled through the bottom of the rim — tying the game at 61. In a game NU should not have been in, it had the No. 15 team, one that was at home and undefeated in conference play, squarely on the ropes.

“If you asked me at the under-three-minute mark, ‘How do you feel being tied?’“ Chris Collins said postgame. “In this building, against a team this hot, I would have taken it.”

Yet, Berry’s triple was the last time the ‘Cats converted from the field. Northwestern only scored two points in the last four minutes, which came when Matt Nicholson sank a pair from the charity stripe. Otherwise, the Badgers dominated the final minutes of the game. Tough, spinning shots from Max Klesmit and AJ Storr gave Wisconsin back the lead, and on the other end of the floor, trailing by two, a missed communication by Buie and Brooks Barnhizer ended in a steal and easy two for Wisco.

Despite trailing by two possessions, the Wildcats had one last opportunity. Chucky Hepburn missed a shot with a minute left, leaving the ball up for grabs. However, the Badgers secured the offensive rebound and another 30 seconds came off the clock. Thirty seconds later, another offensive rebound by Wisconsin ended any chance of a comeback.

“Wisconsin made more plays in the last three minutes,” Collins said after the game.

Sometimes, you just have to tip your cap to the opponent for making the hard shots, but the ‘Cats should have left the Kohl Center with a win. The same issues that have plagued them all year roared their ugly heads throughout the game and at the worst time. Northwestern had 24 fouls this game, with five players reaching three or more fouls. The Badgers found themselves in the bonus with 12 minutes left in the first half and 10 minutes left in the second half, It ended with Wisco converting 20 free throws; comparatively, the ‘Cats only made 11 from the stripe.

This is not the first time NU found itself in foul trouble this season, as it averages 17 fouls a game — good for 223rd in the nation. Whether you agree with the calls or not, Collins (and the refs) ultimately said that they were fouls. Playing physical is a hallmark of this program; however, it can hamper Northwestern when the refs have a quick whistle. To beat the powerhouses of the Big Ten, the Wildcats have to limit the number of points gifted to their opponents; so far, it has been one of the Achilles’ heels for this team.

Much like the fouls, NU’s lack of rebounding will hold itself back from reaching the top of the conference. I feel like a broken record at this point, but Northwestern’s last gasp was demolished because it could not grab a rebound. Per StatBroadcast, the Wildcats have not won the rebound battle once against a Big Ten opponent this season. While NU scored more second-chance points than the Badgers yesterday, its inability to grab a board wiped out any chance of a last-second comeback.

When a team is comprised of shooters, it is due to have an off night. Despite everyone not named Boo Buie shooting just 21% from deep, the ‘Cats found themselves in a battle with one of the top teams in the nation.

“I don’t think a lot of teams are going to come in here and be able to do what we did,” Buie said postgame.

He’s right. Not many teams can take the Badgers to the wire inside the Kohl Center. Northwestern is one of the best teams in the Big Ten. Yet, the same mistakes that have plagued the ‘Cats all season prevented them from heading back down I-90 victorious. Until those areas are addressed, Northwestern will struggle to reach the pinnacle of the conference.