Northwestern kept its tenuous NCAA Tournament hopes alive with a 60-52 Big Ten victory over Wisconsin on Thursday night at Kohl Center.
The Wildcats raced out to an 18-1 lead in the opening six minutes and held on as the Badgers waited until the final moments to find their shooting eye.
“It was a big game for us,” said Northwestern coach Chris Collins. “Our backs are against the wall. We know that. I loved how we started the game.”
Junior center Dererk Pardon paced the Wildcats (14-10, 5-6) with 17 points on 8-of-8 shooting from the field. Senior swingman Scottie Lindsey added 14 points while the Wildcats’ aggressive matchup zone limited Wisconsin to 32.8 percent shooting and forced 11 turnovers.
The Badgers (10-14, 3-8) lost their fourth straight game as the program’s 20th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance moved farther from their grasp.
Only four players hit the scoring column for Wisconsin: Junior forward Khalil Iverson (15 points), junior center Ethan Happ (14 points), redshirt freshman forward Aleem Ford (12 points) and freshman guard Brad Davison (11 points). Sophomore guard Brevin Pritzl missed all 11 of his shots, including 9 from 3-point range.
Northwestern built its 18-1 lead as the Wildcats canned 8 of their first 9 shots. Senior forward Gavin Skelly set the tone on the game’s first possession when he swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Lindsey added a fast-break layup, a long 3-pointer and another layup in the opening 5:30.
When Lindsey finally rimmed a 3-pointer six minutes into the game, the Kohl Center crowd offered an audible sigh of relief - and the Badgers finally started finding the hoop. Davison canned a 3-pointer at the 13:38 mark to trigger a 10-1 run that cut the deficit to 19-11.
The Wildcats never let Wisconsin get closer than eight in the first half, though, as they started spreading the floor and pounding the ball inside to Pardon. He made 5 of 5 from the field and scored a game-high 11 points in the first half - capped by a resounding dunk with 53 seconds left to give Northwestern a 37-26 lead at the break.
Conversely, Northwestern frustrated Wisconsin’s offense by pressing three-quarters court before retreating to an active matchup zone. The Badgers shot just 38 percent and committed eight turnovers in the first half compared to the Wildcats’ 67 percent shooting and six miscues.
Neither team could get into an offensive rhythm during the second half. The Wildcats needed more than five minutes to earn their first basket and hit just 2 of their first 11 attempts. The Badgers canned just 4 of their first 20 as the teams combined for 17 points in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
Ford canned his fourth 3-pointer to pull the Badgers within 52-46 with 1:21 to go - the first time the Badgers had been that close since the opening minutes - but Northwestern answered each time the hosts got within six.
--Field Level Media