No. 22 Wisconsin (11-5 Big Ten, 19-8 overall) bested Northwestern (3-13, 12-15) 69-64 in a tight game at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston. The Badgers struggled against a Wildcats team that has now lost eight straight, demonstrating the parity that has characterized the Big Ten all season. Here are the main takeaways from the victory:
Hot start for Trice
While some of his teammates stalled on offense, guard D’Mitrik Trice carried the load for his team in a back-and-forth first half that featured eight ties and seven lead changes. The sophomore scored 11 first half points, shooting 3-of-6 from deep, to draw UW to within one at the break. That first half total was more than Trice has scored in 12 entire contests this season, as the Badgers’ most accurate three-point shooter found success from kickouts to behind the arc. Trice has struggled at times with his shot this season, but kept Wisconsin afloat in a difficult first half in Evanston.
Wildcats win battle of the big men in the first half
After contributing a season-low six points against Illinois on Monday, senior center Ethan Happ was hoping for a bounceback game against a team he dominated earlier in the year. In last month’s victory over the Wildcats, Happ logged a triple-double, with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. Northwestern had far more success in the first half Saturday.
Showered with chants of “Overrated” by the home crowd, Happ had only five points and zero assists in the first half. The Wildcats double-teamed the big man all night, and he often struggled to get open shots. For whatever reason, Northwestern suspended that strategy in the second half, and he found a way to record another double-double thanks to a critical stretch of three consecutive made shots in the span of four possessions midway through the second period. He finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds in spite of a characteristic 2-4 mark from the free throw line.
Northwestern center Dererk Pardon dominated in both halves, contributing 11 points in the first half and a block. His final statline included 21 points and three rebounds.
Aleem Ford bounces back
After the victory over Illinois, head coach Greg Gard called out sophomore forward Aleem Ford for his lack of effort. When asked about Ford’s declining minute, Gard entreated him to “"Practice better. Being more aggressive, be more physical. Stick his face on the ball. All of the things that make him a more complete player than shooting threes."
Ford evidently took the advice to heart. Forced into action after Nate Reuvers found himself in foul trouble, the Georgia-native did his part. When the Wildcats started to seize momentum in the second half, he knocked down two big triples to keep the Badgers ahead. He also defended well, moving his feet well to stay in front of ball handlers. While it remains to be seen if this performance will earn him more minutes, he played a crucial role in keeping UW in the game.
Fundamentals hurt UW
Known for their discipline and focus, Wisconsin allowed the Wildcats to beat them at their own game. The Badgers turned the ball over 11 times, while Northwestern only had three. UW was also whistled for more fouls than the Wildcats. They often found themselves gaping at the referees, questioning controversial foul calls. These issues gave Northwestern new life and forced Happ and Reuvers to spend significant spells on the bench. They will hope to be better in this regard as the postseason looms.