Much has been made this season of the Wisconsin men’s basketball team’s inability to close games.
But Thursday night at the Kohl Center, it was the Badgers’ (3-8 Big Ten, 10-14 overall) putrid opening to the game that would doom them in a 60-52 loss to Northwestern (5-6, 14-10).
“My dad (Doug Collins) is an analyst of the game, and his thing was always how basketball is not a fourth-quarter game, it's a first-quarter game,” Wildcat head coach Chris Collins said. “So often in basketball the way you start sets the tone for the game.”
NU’s start to the game certainly did that, as the Wildcats raced out to an 18-1 lead in the first 5:31.
Much of NU’s blistering start to the game was predicated on the Badgers’ inability to break down the Wildcats’ 2-3 zone defense, which Collins says often causes problems for teams right after the jump ball.
Four UW turnovers on its first six possessions of the game, including two by redshirt junior forward Ethan Happ, muddied the Badgers’ outlook from the very beginning. But from UW’s perspective, the bulk of the damage in the opening five minutes was done on the defensive end of the court, where the Wildcats made eight of their first nine shots from the floor.
“They hit some tough shots as well,” UW head coach Greg Gard said. “A lot of times when you give them a couple easy ones, the tougher ones, I've always said, become much more makeable.”
Dererk Pardon was the primary Wildcat responsible for making those shots, finishing 8-of-8 from the field for a game-high 17 points to go along with three blocks.
A slow start doomed @BadgerMBB against Northwestern. @benpickman and @TommyValtin break down the game in the latest edition of The Overtime: pic.twitter.com/opaymBqLyV— DailyCardinal Sports (@Cardinal_Sports) February 2, 2018
The Badgers, to their credit, did outplay NU following their brutal five-minute opening act, and in fact outscored the Wildcats by nine points in the game’s final 34:29. But they could never quite string together enough consecutive possessions on either end of the court to pull closer than six, at which point the clock had gotten too small to recover.
Gard said that freshman guard Brad Davison, redshirt freshman forward Aleem Ford and junior forward Khalil Iverson provided excellent energy all over the court, and there were many positives to take away. Iverson and Ford combined to shoot 9-of-15 from the field for 27 points, and while Davison’s injured shoulder limited his shot-making ability, he was his same old perpetually energetic self.
Redshirt sophomore guard Brevin Pritzl, on the other hand, was anything but regular. He never got in a rhythm and missed every shot he took on the night, hindering UW’s ability to climb back into the game. He alone missed just one fewer 3-pointer than the rest of his teammates combined. So what does Davison, a great shooter in his own right, tell Pritzl when the shots won’t fall?
“Keep shooting. Trust his work, trust his shot … When you start thinking about your shot, that's when you miss. You just gotta trust it,” he said. “Don't think about it and just let it fly, and it's gonna go in. We have a lot of confidence in Brevin.”
Davison was one of just four Badgers — Iverson, Ford, Happ and himself — to score on the night, as the rest of the team combined to shoot 0-of-17 from the field and 0-of-12 from deep.
Next, UW turns its attention to a Sunday date with Maryland, which just came within eight points of knocking off No. 3 Purdue on the road. Tipoff is set for 12 p.m. from College Park, Md.