Wildcats use effective zone to thwart Badgers 60-52

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MADISON—A switch to a zone defense may be just what Northwestern needed to get going in Big Ten play.At the least, the zone has given the Wildcats a spark during a tough road stretch.Derek Pardon scored 17 points on 8-of-8 shooting, and Northwestern rode a game-opening 18-1 run to beat Wisconsin 60-52 on Thursday night.Scottie Lindsey added 14 points for the Wildcats (14-10, 5-6 Big Ten), who held the Badgers without a field goal until Brad Davison’s 3 with 13:38 left in the first half ended Northwestern’s spurt.Coach Chris Collins credits the zone for helping the Wildcats win twice on a three-game road swing.

“It’s enabled us to get off to good starts because it takes a while for teams to kind of see how they can attack it,” Collins said.

But what started as a runway slowed down into a miss-filled mess that allowed the Badgers to hang around in the second half.NU went 8 of 8 from the foul line to hang on after Aleem Ford’s 3 with 1:21 left got Wisconsin within 52-46. Ford finished with 12 points.The early struggles caught up with Wisconsin late.

“We got the ball point-blank. We got the ball deep and didn’t complete,” coach Greg Gard said. Northwestern “is too good of a team when you have to dig out of that type of a hole, against a veteran team.”

Khalil Iverson had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Badgers (10-14, 3-8), who have lost four straight games and seven of their last eight. Northwestern held Badgers star forward Ethan Happ to 6 of 13 from the field and 14 points.Wisconsin did manage to get within two possessions late in the game after playing more active defense and keeping the Wildcats off the glass during an ugly second half for both schools.The teams combined to shoot 15 of 52 after halftime, including 5 of 18 (28 percent) for Northwestern.But the game-opening run gave the Wildcats a comfortable cushion the rest of the night. Northwestern attacked the basket and flustered Wisconsin.

“Often in basketball, the way you start the sets the tone for the game,” Collins said. “I thought our energy was good.”

Bryant McIntosh’s assist on Lindsey’s 3-pointer with 15:59 to go in the first half allowed the senior to pass Illinois’ Dee Brown for seventh place on the conference career list. The assist also allowed Lindsey to join Michigan’s Gary Grant and Illinois’ Demetri McCarney as the only players in Big Ten history with 1,650 points and 675 assists. … The Wildcats’ three-game road swing is their longest in league play since the 2002-3 season.Iverson continued his midseason surge after entering the night averaging 13 points in his last four games. The 6-foot-5 forward can find holes along the baseline and maneuver his athletic frame for buckets when Happ gets double-teamed.The Wildcats earlier in the season were giving up too many points in the paint and too many fouls playing primarily man-to-man, so Collins switched to a zone. It helped them open and close their three-game road trip with victories.

“We were having a hard time with communication, with fouling, with dribble penetration,” Collins said, “and I think going to the zone has helped us in all three of those areas.”

Subjected to another healthy dose of double teams, Happ had four of Wisconsin’s eight first-half turnovers. The Badgers, who are plagued by injuries in the backcourt, don’t have enough consistent shooting from 3-point range or enough penetrators to take the pressure off Happ.The Badgers’ steak of 19 straight NCAA tournaments is in serious jeopardy. It’s a young team in which freshmen or less experienced players have been forced to play more.Northwestern hosts Michigan on Tuesday for the Wildcats only home appearance in a six-game stretch.

Hawks offense goes sour again in 4-2 loss in Vancouver

VANCOUVER—The big smile on Brendan Gaunce’s face spoke volumes.Gaunce scored his second goal of the game late in the third period, and the Vancouver Canucks overcame an early deficit to beat the Blackhawks 4-2 on Thursday night.His first goal in the second period tied the game 1-1. He scored his second with just 2:58 left in the third period. It came as the Blackhawks were pressing after cutting the Canuck lead to 3-2.

”It’s great to score goals,” Gaunce said. ”You gain confidence offensively.”

Gaunce has played 109 games over parts of three seasons for Vancouver, collecting five goals and six assists. The 23-year-old once went 95 games without a goal. His previous two goals this season came on the road, so his last goal Thursday earned a huge cheer from the announced crowd of 18,144.

”I couldn’t really hear,” he said. ”I was pretty zoned out after I scored. It’s good to contribute.”

Daniel Sedin and Bo Horvat also scored for the Canucks. Troy Stecher added two assists, and Vancouver won for the fifth time in eight games after a 2-11-3 stretch.The Canucks also won back-to-back games on home ice for the second time this season.Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat scored for the Hawks, who ended a two-game winning streak. Duncan Keith had two assists.The Hawks have not won three straight games since a five-game streak Dec. 8-17.Jacob Markstrom stopped 26 shots for Vancouver. Forsberg, making his third straight start, stopped 17 shots.Daniel Sedin made it 3-1 for Vancouver with 2:55 gone in the third. Jake Virtanen collected a puck in the slot, spun and fired a quick shot that Sedin tipped.DeBrincat drew the Hawks within in a goal when he scored on a slap shot over Markstrom’s glove at 10:19.The Canucks used a pair of second-period goals to take a 2-1 lead.Stecher also had a hand in Horvat’s goal at 9:58. He took a slap shot from the blue line that Horvat tipped for his 12th of the season.Schmaltz showed some speed in scoring the only goal of the first period. He took a pass from Brandon Saad, cut across the front of the net, then beat Markstrom with a backhand at 15:15 for his 14th goal.Jonathan Toews said the Blackhawks gave up too many good chances.

”We need to be better defensively,” he said. ”When pucks are around our net we have to make sure we are a little bit tougher and we’re not giving them easy chances around our net.”

NOTES—Erik Gudbranson returned to Vancouver’s lineup after missing five games with back spasms. … Blackhawk left wing Patrick Sharp was a healthy scratch for the third straight game. … Vancouver’s Sam Gagner didn’t return for the second period after suffering an injury when hitting Tomas Jurco in the opening period.

Bradley edges Loyola, just one game behind Ramblers in the MVC

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PEORIA—Elijah Childs scored 18 points to lead Bradley past Missouri Valley Conference leader Loyola 69-67 on Wednesday night.Bradley (17-7, 7-4 Missouri Valley Conference) has won four straight, is 12-0 at home this season and has a 14-game home win streak dating to last season. Loyola(18-5, 8-3) had its seven-game win streak snapped.Marques Townes made a 3-pointer for Loyola with 1:05 left to tie it at 64. Darrell Brown made four free throws, but Townes hit another 3 to pull the Ramblers to 68-67. Nate Kennell split a pair of free throws, and the Ramblers had a uncontested 3-point attempt hit the back of the iron at the buzzer.Donte Thomas, Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye, and Kennell each scored 12 points for the Braves.Clayton Custer made five 3-pointers and finished with 23 points to lead Loyola.

No Mirotic,Markkanen, or Dunn, Bulls blown away by Portland.

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PORTLAND—CJ McCollum scored a franchise-record 28 points in the first quarter before finishing with a career-high 50 through three, and the Portland Trail Blazers took advantage of the short-handed Bulls for a 124-108 victory Wednesday night.McCollum’s 28 points in the opening quarter were the most by an NBA player this season. His final tally was nine points shy of the team record set by Damian Lillard last season.Lillard also sat out the final period after adding 13 points and seven assists for the Blazers, who led by as many as 29. It was Portland’s fourth straight win overall, a season high, and the club’s eighth in a row at home.Zach LaVine had a season-best 23 points in the Bulls fifth consecutive loss.Lauri Markkanen was not with the Bulls because he was attending to a personal issue, the team said. The rookie is averaging 15.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Paul Zipser started in his place.Kris Dunn, averaging 13.7 points and 6.4 assists, missed his sixth straight game after a concussion.The Bulls decided to sit forward Nikola Mirotic while he reportedly seeks a trade. Coach Fred Hoiberg said before the game that the 6-foot-10 forward remained back at the team hotel. Meanwhile, rumors swirled that the Bulls had a deal with the Pelicans but it fell apart.Portland shot 74 percent in the first quarter paced by McCollum, who made four 3-pointers in the period and finished with six for the game.Pat Connaughton’s 3-pointer put the Blazers up 54-28. McCollum punctuated the first half with a dunk, and the Blazers went into the break with a 67-44 lead.McCollum finished the half with 32 points, one shy of Lillard’s franchise record.

”I thought we had some good looks early, we didn’t make them, and then you have to guard. That’s kind of been the story of these slow starts, letting teams get comfortable and in a rhythm,” Hoiberg said. ”Our game plan was to come out, try to blitz him (McCollum). He was splitting our double teams and obviously made tough shots. Give him credit for coming out of the game and setting the tone.”

After he sat down in the third quarter, McCollum smiled when the crowd chanted ”We want CJ!”The Blazers did lose center Jusuf Nurkic in the fourth quarter to injury. Afterward, they said it was a bruised left quad.Lillard went into the game needing 25 points to reach 10,000. He’ll be the seventh Blazers player to reach the mark, joining Clyde Drexler, LaMarcus Aldridge, Terry Porter, Cliff Robinson, Jerome Kersey and Jim Paxson. The Bulls fell behind 23-2,28-5 & 30-7 before trailing after the first quarter 43-19.