"Losing just one guy, Swopshire, shouldn't have that much of an effect on us," coach Bill Carmody said. "It seems like it has."
In another performance that lacked conviction, Northwestern lost to No. 19 Wisconsin 69-41 on Wednesday at Welsh-Ryan Arena. This was historically bad.
The Wildcats scored 12 points in the opening frame, their lowest total in any half of the Bill Carmody era. Before halftime, they were outrebounded by 23-8 and failed to score in the paint.
Wisconsin hardly needed its best effort to knock off NU. The Badgers struggled to generate early offense, but worked through Jared Berggren on the inside. Berggren finished with 12 points, tied for a team-high.
The Wisconsin frontcourt dominated NU centers Mike Turner and Alex Olah, who combined to score only two points. The Cats hoped they could score on the inside. They were instead limited to what Dave Sobolewski said were "15-to-17 footers."
"We thought we would be able to dump it down to the center," Sobolewski said. "They did a good job taking that out … I don't remember many layups at all."
Bo Ryan – in his 12th year as Wisconsin head coach – understands how to shut down the Princeton offense. His team refuses to fall victim to back cuts and easy baskets. They seldom lapsed, but when they did, Ryan noticed.
"It happened twice," Ryan said. "But who's counting?"
Their discipline led to a brutal offensive performance from the Cats. They made four of 20 field goals in the first half, and just 29 percent overall.
They followed their desired tempo. But it hardly matters when the shots aren't falling.
"Every play in the first half, we slowed it down," Sobolewski said. "We just didn't score enough."
That was only compounded by a disastrous effort on the glass. Turner, the starting center, did not record a single rebound. Meanwhile, the Badgers preyed on the offensive glass. They corralled 15 offensive rebounds, which led to 16 second-chance points.
Carmody said after the game that he might consider giving Nikola Cerina a greater role. The athletic 6-9 forward continues to play sparingly and only saw the floor for eight minutes despite the awful rebounding effort.
"Our rebounding: it's been anemic," Carmody said. "I'm not sure of the answer."
Swopshire had looked the part before his injury. He grabbed 16 rebounds in the loss to Nebraska on Jan. 26. Against Purdue the following week, NU looked as motivated as ever. Swopshire scored 13 points and the Cats compensated for their small play by making shots in the impressive win.
Losers of five straight, the Cats now travel to West Lafayette to face Purdue on Sunday. The once-promising season has turned into a sendoff for the senior class. In the postgame press conference, Sobolewski used the player sitting next to him as an example.
"The motivation is to have guys like Reggie leave on a good note," he said.
Carmody was left to reflect on the Ohio State game, in which his young players made it interesting.
"Was that the aberration?" Carmody asked.
That looks like the case. After another forgettable loss, NU is searching for answers.
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