The Wildcats were thoroughly manhandled in Evanston Sunday, getting out-hustled by a clearly superior Badgers team. The 78-46 defeat was the most embarrassing athletic performance for Northwestern since, sadly enough, the football team’s November loss to the very same University of Wisconsin, and the worst home loss of the recently-extended Bill Carmody era.
Hero of the game | Josh Gasser
It’s hard to find a single player to isolate on a team that won a Big Ten game by 32 on the road, but we would be remiss if we did not call attention to the coming out party staged by Wisconsin freshman Josh Gasser in Welsh-Ryan Arena. Gasser has started all but four games this year, but to this point was only averaging 5.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and just over 2 assists per game. He eclipsed all of those figures, putting 10 points with 12 boards and 10 assists en route to his first career triple-double.
Gasser’s all-around performance does not bode well for Northwestern’s future prospects in its border rivalry with Wisconsin. A point guard that is likely to start for years to come on this Badger’s squad, Gasser’s auspicious first game at Welsh-Ryan holds the promise of a career that could rival his Sunday counterpart: Juice Thompson.
Turning Point | John Shurna’s foul with 4:11 remaining in the first half
Down 10 with time ticking away in the first half, John Shurna attempted to drive on Wisconsin forward Mike Bruesewitz, throwing out his left arm and in the process taking an offensive foul. That was the breaking point: freshman guard Josh Gasser capitalized on the Northwestern turnover with a 3-point play over a Davide Curletti foul. Another stunted Wildcat possession, this time ending with an ill-advised shot by Luka Mirkovic, led to a Jordan Taylor 3-pointer. Wisconsin secured the game’s momentum and never let go from that point on, closing out the half on a 9-2 run that had the Wildcats facing a 19-point deficit going into the locker room. It was simply too large a margin for the Wildcats to overcome against the stalwart Badgers defense.
Stat of the game | Drew Crawford’s 0 points
John Shurna is indisputably Northwestern’s most potent scorer, and Juice Thompson its most irreplaceable locker room leader, yet in all of the Wildcats’ worst losses this season, there has been one constant: a distinct lack of success from standout sophomore Drew Crawford.
Crawford averaged 13.6 points per game going in to Sunday’s clash with Wisconsin, but in losses where the margin of victory was greater than five points (specifically, every loss except the heartbreaking pair of Michigan State games) he has averaged only 5.5 points. With Shurna’s ankle still healing and Thompson in early foul trouble, there was no room for error in Crawford’s game, yet none of his shots seemed to fall.
What to Improve On | Rebounding
It would be easier and no less valid, really, to just say “everything” and move on, but if there was one notably glaring hole for the Wildcats, it was their poor rebounding performance. Most teams in the Big Ten will outman Northwestern on the boards, but the extent of the Badgers’ dominance really raises some concerns about the Wildcats’ ability to compete with the conference’s top teams.
Wisconsin out-rebounded the Wildcats 32-18, but the real discrepancy was on the offensive glass, where the margin was 10-3. Being aware that the two heartbreaking losses to Michigan State hinged on crucial breakdowns against offensive rebounds, the number of second chances Northwestern allowed the Badgers was truly disheartening. Considering Wisconsin’s star senior forward Jon Leuer was held to only two rebounds, the Wildcats really should have been able to at least stay competitive on the glass.