MADISON, Wis. - The Kohl Center has been a house of horrors for most of the Big Ten since it opened in 1998- and the Northwestern Wildcats were no exception.
Until Wednesday night, that is. The Wildcats snapped a 13-game losing streak to Wisconsin in the Kohl Center with a 65-56 win where they took advantage of an abysmal shooting performance by the Badgers, who shot just 26.3 percent from the field in the game.
In total the Badgers finished with more free throws (21) than field goals (15), but head coach Bo Ryan said he wasn't upset with the shots his team was taking, especially early in the game.
"If someone would have told me that we would have gotten those shots and shot that percentage, I would have said no way," Ryan said after the game. "Once you start missing, though, sometimes that basket gets pretty small."
"We did not have a guy shoot over 50 percent [in the game]. I don't know if that's ever happened."
Wisconsin's shooting woes started after Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson hit back-to-back 3-pointers on UW's first two possessions of the game. After that the Badgers missed 10 consecutive shots during a scoring drought that bordered on eight minutes before Frank Kaminsky hit a 2-point jump shot that finally brought Wisconsin's skid to a halt.
But things didn't get better for the Badgers after they limped into halftime with a 23-22 lead over the Wildcats after Wisconsin shot just 25 percent from the field to start the game. They scored just nine more points through seven minutes of the second half, and missed 17 straight field goal attempts during a 13-minute stretch that ultimately gave the Wildcats a chance to seize control of the game.
"I don't even know what to say," Brust said after the game. "To throw the ball in the post and get a wide open kick out and to air-ball it is just ridiculous. That's just unacceptable. You've just got to be a man and step up and knock them down, and I didn't do that personally."
Brust finished the night shooting 7-of-18 from the field with a team-high 21 points. Sophomore forward Sam Dekker scored 11 on 2-of-9 shooting from the floor, but made 7-of-8 free throw attempts in one of Wisconsin's few bright spots on the night. The Badgers made 21-of-27 free throws in the game, showing that they were at least attempting to get to the basket even though they finished with just 14 points in the paint.
The Wildcats also struggled out of the gate, shooting just 3-for-12 from the field during the game's first nine minutes, but they rebounded in the second half thanks to a big night from senior forward Drew Crawford. Crawford finished the game with 30 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the floor, and helped spark a 10-2 run that gave the Wildcats a 15-point lead over the Badgers with less than four minutes left in the game.
And while Brust and the Badgers fought back over the game's final minutes to cut Northwestern's lead down to six points with less than a minute to play, their extra effort came a few minutes too late. The Badgers started to run a full-court press against the Wildcats and forced six turnovers during the final three minutes of the game, but made just three of their final eight shots.
The loss is Wisconsin's fourth in their last five games after they started the season 16-0 and climbed as high as No. 3 in the country in national polls. But what's more concerning for the Badgers is that their offense was nowhere to be found after it did much of the heavy lifting through the non-conference season and into their first few games of Big Ten play.
"We've jut got to stay confident," Josh Gasser said. "We know we can put the ball in the hoop, but tonight we didn't."
After seeing the Badgers top 100 points on one occasion it's clear that the Badgers have the offensive firepower to climb the mountain and claim a Big Ten title again. The problem is that it's been a while since they put together a solid offensive and defensive performance in the same game, and they're running out of time to prove they can do it again consistently.
John Veldhuis covers Wisconsin football, basketball and recruiting for BadgerBlitz.com on the Rivals.com network. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnVeldhuis.