Northwestern defeated Wisconsin 60-52 on Thursday night at the Kohl Center in a game that required the Badgers to climb uphill from the start. Wisconsin trailed 18-1 after 5 1/2 minutes. For the second time in the last three games, the Badgers never led.
Here are three things we learned about Wisconsin from the game:
Wisconsin’s poor start doomed Badgers
Northwestern forward Gavin Skelly buried a 3-pointer only 16 seconds into the game to give the Wildcats a 3-0 lead. Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ committed a turnover, which led to a layup by Scottie Lindsey. Happ committed another turnover, Brevin Pritzl missed a 3-pointer, Aleem Ford and Alex Illikainen each gave the ball away, and then Brad Davison and T.J. Schlundt each missed 3-pointers against Northwestern’s 2-3 zone.
Add up that awful opening and Wisconsin found itself down 18-1 on Lindsey’s layup with 14:29 remaining in the first half. Given Wisconsin’s offensive inconsistency, it was almost an insurmountable hurdle. The Badgers cut the deficit to 6 points on four occasions late in the second half but couldn’t get over the hump.
Wisconsin’s start followed an awful final 10 minutes against Nebraska on Monday, in which the Cornhuskers outscored the Badgers 30-8 to close the game and steal a 74-63 victory. Wisconsin was outscored 48-9 over roughly 15 minutes of basketball between the two games.
“We’ve got to play a full 40 minutes,” Happ said. “Shots might not go in, but we’ve got to be there mentally and on the defensive end every game.”
It didn’t help matters that only four Badgers scored in the game. Khalil Iverson tallied a team-high 15 points, Happ scored 14, Ford 12 off the bench and Davison 11. But Pritzl, Nate Reuvers, Schlundt and Illikainen combined to shoot 0 for 17 from the field in 65 minutes.
“Obviously, not happy with the outcome,” Badgers coach Greg Gard said. “But, as I told the team, you don’t dig yourself an 18-1 hole, it’s a lot easier to come back and make a run. And I knew we were going to have to make shots. We were going to have to knock in some 3s with how they compress the paint and what they do in the zone and matching up, you’re going to have some looks. You’re going to have to knock them down. We weren’t able to, obviously, do enough of that and didn’t have a good enough start in the first 4 minutes.”
Brevin Pritzl was ice cold
Pritzl endured one of the worst shooting games you will see. He missed all 11 of his field-goal attempts, including 9 3-point tries, in 35 minutes. Some of those 3-pointers in the second half weren’t even close to falling. Pritzl’s sophomore season surely hasn’t met his expectations, even as he has played significant minutes.
This season, Pritzl has connected on 31.5 percent of his 3-pointers (34 of 108). That is not a strong percentage for anybody, least of all a player who has attempted the most 3s on the team and is supposed to be a 3-point specialist.
Pritzl’s shooting has been all over the map. He has buried at least 3 triples in seven different games. But he also can go through extended slumps.
Davison was asked what he might say to Pritzl about his shooting struggles.
“To keep shooting,” Davison said. “To trust his work, trust his shot. Everyone at this level puts in a lot of time. When you start thinking about your shot, that’s when you miss. You’ve just got to trust it, don’t think about it, just let it fly and it’s going to go in.
“We have a lot of confidence in Brevin. He needs to have confidence in himself, and he’ll knock them down. We have no worries about that. Shots will fall, shots won’t fall, but it’s the other little things that we can control.”
Wisconsin looks like team that will play on first day of Big Ten Tournament
The Big Ten Tournament began in 1998, which coincided with the last time Wisconsin missed the NCAA Tournament. That Badgers team entered the conference tournament as a No. 10 seed. During the next 19 seasons, Wisconsin never was seeded worse than No. 6.
But as Wisconsin heads for the home stretch and its final seven conference games, the Badgers are locked in a three-way tie for 10th with Iowa and Minnesota. Iowa defeated Wisconsin 85-67 in the teams’ only matchup and would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. Wisconsin will play Minnesota once, on Feb. 19 at the Kohl Center. The four worst teams, seeded from 11-14, play on the first day of the Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York on Feb. 28.
Wisconsin is 10-14 overall and 3-8 in the Big Ten.
“No one here is used to losing,” Davison said. “That’s not what Wisconsin basketball is about. It’s not what it’s going to be about. It’s definitely frustrating. I think that’s the mindset you have to have is use each game to try to improve, each practice to try to improve, and try not to get discouraged.
“You’ve got to keep the faith. You’ve got to have confidence. When you lose the faith, when you get discouraged, that’s when it gets tough. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to keep working. We’re going to keep pushing, keep trying to improve. We’ve still got a lot of big opportunities in front of us in the Big Ten Tournament, so just got to keep working.”
Wisconsin has lost four consecutive Big Ten games and seven of its last eight. Gard addressed whether Wisconsin’s struggles were wearing on the team.
“I’m sure it bugs them just like it bugs me,” Gard said. “They’re competitors. And anybody that’s ever played a competitive sport, there’s a reason you do it. You want to be on the right side of the score, the winning side. They put a lot of time and effort into it. They work extremely hard.
“That’s one thing as we’ve struggled to continue to grow and mature that this group has constantly come back the next day ready to go. I have not had to light a fire, any of that type of stuff. They have come ready to work, and they understand there’s a lot of areas we’ve got to continue to mature and grow and get better at.”