Jan. 24, 2011
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski looks back on a day in which not much went right for the Northwestern men's basketball team on Sunday against 18th-ranked Wisconsin.
Its first-half shooting percentages were 62.1 overall and 53.8 on threes, and those numbers are as gaudy as any of Lady Gaga's outrageous outfits. But they are not the most-telling ones spit out during Wisconsin's Sunday rout of the 'Cats at Welsh-Ryan Arena. This one is. Twenty-four times in those first 30 minutes the Badgers went up the court on offense and, on 18 of those trips, they came away with points. That means, quite simply, they scored on a full 75 percent of their possessions and that is why they led by 19 when halftime finally arrived.
"I just think we didn't put any pressure on them. I think we didn't upset them," 'Cat coach Bill Carmody later lamented. "I think they had one turnover in the first half, maybe one or two in the second half (it was two). We didn't have any turnovers either. But there was never any pressure. We always talk about making them have their back to the basket. But we were never able to get them to turn. They were always facing the court and making the passes that they wanted to make. We were really on defense on defense. We weren't the aggressor."
Here are some more telling figures from the loss for the 'Cats. With the game tied at 14 with 13:24 remaining in the first half, the Badgers went on a 12-2 run. Then, with the Badgers up 10 with 5:16 remaining in the first half, they went on an 11-2 run. Finally, with the Badgers up 18 with 16:20 remaining in this affair, they went on a 17-0 run.
"We just never stopped them," Carmody would say. "They got the shots they wanted no matter what defense we were playing. We never made them feel uncomfortable. Each time down the court, they were in control. Somewhere along the line we've got to stop them...The entire game it seemed they did what they wanted."
Here is one last figure that helps tell the story of that unexpectedly-lopsided defeat. Not until they were down 39 with 10:42 remaining in this game did the 'Cats, for the very first time, manage to score back-to-back baskets and unfurl a 4-0 run of their own. That, in fact, would be their longest run of this afternoon until they closed it out with another of 6-0.
"You've got to compete. You've got to fight for stuff," Carmody would say moments later on his radio show.
"This is rough, especially because it's here, it's home," he later added. "The competitiveness, I didn't see it. I didn't see it. In a couple spurts, it was there. But for the most part it wasn't there."
"I agree with what coach said about the competitiveness," the point guard Michael Thompson was saying mere moments later. "Wisconsin did a great job of executing their offense. And it seemed every time we did play good defense, when they did miss, they always came up with the rebound and got second and third and fourth opportunities at the basket. That killed us. Like coach said, we didn't compete well enough and that's why they got all those second and third chances and that killed us tonight."
How did Thompson account for that lack of competitiveness, which is really nothing more than effort?
"It definitely was effort," he said. "We just didn't come out ready to play. We kind of got off to a good start. But we didn't do a good job stopping them...It seemed like we just didn't compete on the defensive end."
The 'Cats, like all good teams, pride themselves on their competitiveness, and trying to explain its absence in a crucial game is no easier than trying to grasp a wafting puff of smoke. Better, then, to call up this memory from long ago and recall what one coach said as we discussed his team's inconsistency and its effect on his mental health. "You know," he said. "Sometimes I look out on the court and realize those are 19- and 20-year old kids running up and down with my paycheck in their mouths." That, really, is as good any explanation to be found.
The roots of Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan are planted in a suburb of Philadelphia, back in that area that gave the game of basketball the legendary Pete Carril and the Princeton offense used by the 'Cats. He, then, was speaking with some authority on Sunday when he said: "I played in the '60s and coached in the '70s out East and this offensive philosophy of the backdoors, and actions called reverse and chin and low post and all the things they do is just solid basketball. We've incorporated that with our offense a long time ago. It's good stuff and in order to guard it, you've really got to pay attention and you've really got to be disciplined. You can't rattle, you can't overanticipate...Northwestern's a very good team. For our guys to come in and execute the way they did, our guys deserve a lot of credit."
Right there, with those words, Bo Ryan neatly wrapped up Sunday's affair. His Badgers, who play a patient style that is governed by rules, followed the latter and performed the former to near perfection. The 'Cats, in stark contrast, did neither.
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