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.