Northwestern men’s basketball's magical Big Ten tournament run was brought to an end Saturday afternoon, when the ‘Cats (23-11, 10-8 B1G) were dismantled by No. 24 Wisconsin (25-8, 12-6 B1G), 76-48 in the conference tournament semifinals. The Badgers dominated from start to finish, holding Northwestern to its lowest point total of the season en route to a 28-point victory.
Plain and simple, the ‘Cats didn’t look like the team they were the past two games. Wisconsin opened the game on a 15-3 run, and the ‘Cats barely caught up. They went on a 9-1 run to bring the score back to 16-12, but Wisconsin slowly but surely built upon its lead from there and never let it get that close again. The lead got as big as 33 late in the second half, and it never dipped below 15 after halftime. Every rare occasion where it seemed like Northwestern might start to make a run, the Badgers would respond with an easy three, bucket in the paint or some other run-killer.
Northwestern had little rest after playing late last night, and it showed. They shot only 34.6 percent (and 21.4 from three) and finished the game with just 5 assists - not a single player had more than one. Wisconsin outrebounded them 36 to 27, and only guard Scottie Lindsey scored in double digits.
Lindsey was the only bright spot for Northwestern, scoring 16 points on 50 percent shooting, continuing has strong play after his recovery from mono. Forward Vic Law, who has been playing well his past few games, returned to his struggles with just four points on 2-8 shooting. McIntosh also struggled, shooting just 4-of-12 with only one assist.
For Wisconsin, the stars shone: forward Ethan Happ had 16 points and eight rebounds, and forward Nigel Hayes added 18 and 10. Hayes, who shot 7-of-11 from the field looked little short of impossible to guard going up against center Dererk Pardon and forward Gavin Skelly. The ‘Cats lack of size down low has been a concern all season, and it showed tonight against two strong big men.
Not all hope is lost, though: Tomorrow, the ‘Cats will almost certainly get their first bid to the NCAA Tournament, keeping alive the best season in the program’s history. The loss was certainly a major disappointment, but come tomorrow it will be forgotten in the excitement of reaching the Big Dance for the first time.