NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski takes a look back at the Northwestern men's basketball team's game against No. 19/17 Wisconsin on Wednesday.
* The 'Cats knew exactly what was coming Wednesday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena. They knew Wisconsin would look to run their shooters off the three-point line. They knew Wisconsin would flat-hedge their screens and string out their offense. They knew Wisconsin would look to limit their lethal back-door layups. They knew, as a result of all this, they would have a bevy of 15-to-17 foot pull-ups available to them. They knew that full well, but here is what happened in the first half of their game with the Badgers.
They made just a single two-point field goal, a jumper by point Dave Sobolewski from just beyond the free throw line with over 11 minutes gone. They would manage to convert three threes in those 20 minutes. Yet, when they ended, they were a mere four-of-20 overall (20 percent) and three-of-11 on their threes (27.3 percent); they had not a single player with more than one field goal to his name; they had only a dozen points; and they were down 16. "It comes down to our offense was stagnant, but a lot of it was just not making shots," guard Reggie Hearn would later say.
"We knew we would have some fairly open mid-range jumpers, but aside from Dave hitting a few, I don't think anybody really hit those. Those are shots we practice, and those are shots we can make, and those are shots that would have keep us in the game. But we didn't hit those."
* The 'Cats didn't hit their first half-dozen shots and trailed, 9-0, when Hearn dropped a three at 14:31. They didn't hit another (a three by Alex Marcotullio) for nearly three minutes, and then over three more minutes would pass before Sobolewski's two. Just over two minutes later center Mike Turner would hit a three at 6:04, and now they would get just a free throw from Hearn before they headed to their locker room. "It didn't seem much different to me than the other night against Illinois," 'Cat coach Bill Carmody would later say.
"Got off to a slow start. Got down nine-nothing. Got to 17-11 (actually 18-11 after Turner's three). And then it just took off. We're just having a hard time putting the ball in the basket. And (our) rebounding, it's been anemic. . . They just dominated us inside. They were very productive down there."
"What killed us was the backboards. You guys saw that. . .," echoed Sobolewski. "We've got to find a way to keep them off the glass. Fifteen offensive rebounds. It seemed like they scored every time."
* The backboards were indeed the other major factor in what would be their 28-point defeat. The Badgers had 47 rebounds; the Cats, 22. The Badgers had 15 offensive rebounds; the Cats, five. The Badgers had 16 second-chance points; the 'Cats, two. The Badgers had 28 points-in-the-paint; the 'Cats, six. Jared Berggren, the Badgers' starting center, had eight rebounds; Mike Turner, who started at center for the 'Cats, had none. The Badgers had another player with eight, a third with seven and a fourth with five; five was the number grabbed by the leading 'Cat rebounder and that was Sobolewski, the diminutive point. "Like Dave said, they just killed us on the backboards in the first half," said Hearn.
"Then, in the second half, they started throwing it down to the post. . .and pounding us, taking advantage of their size. I don't think they did anything real special with their swing offense. They just took advantage of their size and we didn't fight hard enough."
* The Badgers' size, and their defense's denial of the backdoor layup, also forced the 'Cats to regularly settle for jump shots, which resulted in this last revelatory stat. Wisconsin went to the line 26 times, making 18. The 'Cats went to the line just five times, making three. "We've got to find a way to not only get to the line, but get to the hole," Sobolewski would say of this anomaly. "I don't remember many layups at all that we made. Everything was a jumper. We do shoot a lot of jump shots. But we've got to find a way to get back door cuts, get in the lane with our dribble, something. We've got to find a way to get inside as well as knock down open shots outside."
* Those facts well-enough tell the story of Wednesday night. But now what? What now after a pair of 20-point-plus defeats at home and a Sunday game at Purdue on the horizon? "For me the motivation is to have guys like Reggie (a senior) leave on a good note," said Sobolewski, a sophomore. "They've been great to me since I got here and I want them to go out on a good note. That's my motivation and I hope the other guys on the team do that as well."
"To go off of that, me and Al (Marcotullio) have four games left and the Big Ten tourney, and we're not going to go down without a fight," added Hearn. "It's obviously tough what we're going through right now. But there's not much time left in the season, and this is no time to be tired, no time to give up, no time to be down about anything. We just have to keep pushing through."
"We've got to figure out not so much (what to do) about Purdue or the other teams down the road. Just what we're going to do to improve ourselves offensively. . .," concluded Carmody. "I don't know how many different options we have at this point. I just think the guys who are playing, it's their chance to play and just improve and that's what we're trying to do with our guys. You're showing the young guys the film, you're breaking it down for them individually and trying to see if they can get better. You just try to improve them all so as a team we can progress."
* And finally, Carmody, when asked if he felt his 'Cats were frustrated: "I hope so. I hope they're a little frustrated. It's not necessarily a bad thing. I would say our guys are mad, and I'm glad of that."