Preview: No. 14 UW vs. Northwestern

MADISON, Wis. - The same statistics that plague No. 14 Wisconsin (17-3, 4-3) during its three game losing streak -points in the paint and excessive field goal shooting by their opponents - played vital roles in securing the Badgers their first Big Ten win of the season in a 76-49 blowout against Northwestern (10-11, 3-5) back on January 2 in Evanston, Ill.
The Badgers shot 55.2 percent from the floor and scored a season-high 44 points in the paint their last time out against the Wildcats. Wisconsin only turned the ball over four times and four players - led by Nigel Hayes' 19 off the bench - scored in double figures.
Strong defense to go along with an offense that was firing on all cylinders allowed for the Badgers to take a 40-14 lead going into halftime with Northwestern shooting just 26 percent from the field. The second half, however, proved to be a tougher battle for the cardinal and white as Northwestern played them to a pretty-much-even 36-35 second half.
"We kind of gave them a wake-up call in the first game we played them," Josh Gasser said. "The first half we took it to them and the second half we were pretty much even and ever since then they have been on a tear."
Two marquee wins against then-No. 23 Illinois and at Indiana over the past two weeks have seen the Wildcats' potential come to life.
Boasting an offense that ranks dead last in the Big Ten with 61.4 points per game, the Wildcats have turned to their surprisingly stingy defense over the past two weeks. Aside from allowing 76 points in a loss to then-No. 10 Iowa, Northwestern gave up a mere 43 points to Illinois, 54 to then-No. 4 Michigan State, 47 to Indiana, and 60 in double overtime to Purdue. The Wildcats held their opponents to a combined 29.5 shooting percentage in those four games. It is no secret that the Wildcats are owners of one of the hottest defenses in the country right now.
"They're not going to beat themselves," Gasser said. "They're really good on defense, they share the ball well, they're extremely well coached and they're going to play hard. If we don't bring it then we could see a different result than we're looking for."
Seeing a team for a second time can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, as Gasser described, the team knows exactly what to do and when going through drills against the scout team it feels familiar because they had done the same thing three weeks prior.
On the other hand, however, when a team shows such improvement between the first and second meetings often times the game-film becomes irrelevant.
So despite an improved defense, the Badgers are not going to concern themselves with what the Wildcats are doing so much as they are concerned with what they can control: their own play.
"What we're trying to accomplish will not change based on who we are playing or how many times we've played them," associate head coach Greg Gard said. "We just have to continue to be better and be more worried about ourselves and try to make ourselves better."
"Our approach has always been to try and be as multi-dimensional as possible," Gard continued. "If we can get to the free-throw line - obviously everyone wants easy baskets - and if we get things at the rim great. But if they shut that off then there's going to be a counter to it."
As they try to begin another streak, all the Badgers can do is focus on themselves and if they play up to their potential, then the rest should take care of itself.
Game Info
When and Where: 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Kohl Center
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 1310 AM, 101.5 FM
Coach: Bo Ryan, 308-116 in his 13th season at Wisconsin.
Probable starters (height, year, ppg.)
1 Ben Brust 6-1 Sr. 12.8
12 Traevon Jackson 6-2 Jr. 11.2
15 Sam Dekker 6-7 So. 14.2
21 Josh Gasser 6-3 Jr. 9.2
44 Frank Kaminsky 7-0 Jr. 13.4
Key reserves (height, year, ppg.)
10 Nigel Hayes 6-7 Fr. 6.8
13 Duje Dukan 6-9 Jr. 3.2
24 Bronson Koenig 6-3 Fr. 3.4
Quick hits: Wisconsin in third in the Big Ten in scoring defense (63.5 ppg), leads the nation in fewest turnovers per game (8.3), and are second in the NCAA in fewest fouls committed (15.0 per game)…The Badgers have held their opponent to below 40 percent shooting in four of their seven Big Ten games this season…Wisconsin holds a 112-61 advantage in the all-time series with Northwestern, including a 64-20 mark in games played in Madison…The Badgers have won seven straight over the Wildcats by an average of 19.9 points per game. Four of the last five meetings have been decided by 20 or more points.
Coach: Chris Collins, 10-11 in his first season at Northwestern
Probable starters (height, year, ppg.)
1 Drew Crawford 6-5 Sr. 15.6
13 Kale Abrahamson 6-7 So. 4.0
22 Alex Olah 7-0 So. 8.5
23 JerShon Cobb 6-5 Jr. 11.3
34 Sanjay Lumpkin 6-5 Fr. 4.0
Key reserves (height, year, ppg.)
3 Dave Sobolewski 6-1 Jr. 6.3
14 Tre Demps 6-2 So. 10.8
32 Nathan Taphorn 6-7 Fr. 2.8
Quick hits: This is just the third time in school history that Northwestern has played against six ranked opponents in a single month…Alex Olah had a career-high 23 points against the Badgers the last time out…Northwestern is the only team in the Big Ten with an average scoring margin that is sub-zero (-2.6)…The Wildcats are dead-last in the Big Ten in scoring offense (61.4 ppg), scoring margin, field goal percentage (.394), three-point field goal percentage (.293), rebounding defense (37.9 rpg), rebounding margin (-3.5), steals (4.1 spg), offensive rebounds (8.3), and offensive rebounding percentage (.237)…Drew Crawford became the program's career leader in both games played (131) and games started (130).
Why you should worry: Three games in a row now with foul trouble for Frank Kaminsky early in the first half. If that is the case tonight, then Alex Olah could have another career night against the Badgers. That's really all there is to worry about. All the history, statistics, etc. point towards a Wisconsin victory tonight.
Why you shouldn't worry: Northwestern has never won a game in at the Kohl Center in 13 attempts. The last time the Wildcats beat the Badgers in Madison was 1996, when the UW Field House was the home of men's hoops.
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