The Wisconsin Badgers faced off against the Northwestern Wildcats in Madison, looking to cap off an undefeated record at home. They did just that, fending off the upset-minded Wildcats with a 15 point win. The focus today was on the seniors of this Wisconsin team as they played in their final home game. Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil, Brett Valentyn, Wquinton Smith, Tim Jarmusz, J.P. Gavinksi...all saw playing time in their final game at the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin came out shooting well, hitting 6 of their first 8 shots and taking a 13-4 lead over Bill Carmody's 'Cats. And the Badgers managed to shoot well for most of the first half , taking a 43-30 lead at the half. It was in the 2nd half that Northwestern put up a fight, cutting Wisconsin's lead to 3 points. But the Badgers, and Jon Leuer in particular, never let up, answering every Northwestern field goal with one of their own. They managed to outscore Northwestern in the 2nd half, despite giving up a barrage of 3 point shots.
And at the end of the day, the Badgers slapped down the Northwestern upset bid and came up with their 12th Big Ten win of the year. The Badgers smothered Northwestern's offense inside the arc, making the Wildcat offense one-dimensional and forcing the 'Cats to take many outside shots. While Northwestern was able to find success from beyond the arc, they couldn't keep up with Wisconsin down the stretch and fell behind by double digits after cutting Wisconsin's lead to 3 points.
Wisconsin got a much needed boost from Jon Leuer, who scored a team-high 26 points and gathered 6 rebounds, tied with Jarmusz for the team lead in that category. Jordan Taylor scored 16 points and distributed the ball very effectively, ending the day with 7 assists. Keaton Nankivil was next on the team with 15 points, his third consecutive game in double-figures. Wquinton Smith made his only shot of the game, a 3 pointer in the 1st half, and Tim Jarmusz added 6 points and 6 rebounds. Josh Gasser finished out the Badger scorers in double figures with 10 points.
Northwestern had only 4 players score, and all four recorded double-figures in that category, but given Wisconsin's smothering interior defense, it wasn't nearly enough for the Wildcats to pull out a giant road upset. John Shurna scored 14 points, but 12 came on shots from outside and Shurna was only 5 of 13 from the floor overall. Michael Thompson was 6 of 11 shooting from the floor, and finished with a team-high 19 points; converting only one of his 5 shot attempts from inside the arc. But Thompson's 5 of 6 shooting from beyond the arc was a huge factor in Northwestern cutting Wisconsin's huge lead. Drew Crawford finished 5 of 12 from the floor for 12 points, and David Curletti finished with a career-best 18 points. But aside from those four, not one Northwestern player scored. Luka Mirkovic gathered no rebounds and scored no points, having perhaps his worst games of the year.
Wisconsin is still very much alive in the Big Ten race. With the Big Ten tournament on the horizon and only two games remaining, the Badgers are fully in the hunt for a top-three seed in the NCAA Tournament. As for Northwestern, this loss may well spell the end of their NCAA tournament hopes. Unless they win the Big Ten tournament itself, it looks like the 'Cats are headed to the NIT.
Wisconsin: @ Indiana (March 3rd), @ Ohio State (March 6th)
Northwestern: vs. Minnesota (March 2nd, SENIOR DAY)