EVANSTON, Ill. (AP)—Northwestern clamped down on Wisconsin with a matchup zone defense that threw the Badgers’ timing off and kept star guard Devin Harris from taking over the game.
“That’s the best defensive game we’ve played all year. That was obvious with the emotion and all the loose balls,” Northwestern’s Jitim Young said after the Wildcats’ surprisingly lopsided 69-51 victory over the No. 14 Badgers on Saturday.
“Everybody made shots and we played a great all-around game.”
The loss knocked Wisconsin (15-4, 6-2) out of first in the Big Ten, with Michigan State taking over the top spot with its win over Ohio State.
Northwestern (9-11, 4-5) shocked the Badgers with a 34-11 run over the final 13:30 of the opening half—including a 15-0 spurt that had Welsh-Ryan Arena rocking—and opened a 17-point halftime lead.
Fans rushed the floor after the victory, their second over a ranked team in less than a month. They beat then-No. 25 Illinois on Jan. 14.
Harris, coming off a career-high 38-point performance against Minnesota, scored 16 but shot just 4-for-18 from the field. Zach Morley added 15.
“Harris was frustrated the whole second half,” said Vedran Vukusic, who led the Wildcats with 18 points. How could he tell?
“By his facial expressions,” Vukusic said.
Harris was low key about his performance.
“The shots were there, they just didn’t fall tonight. I mean I’m not going to score 30 points every night,” Harris said.
“We had good shots at the basket. The perimeter game was not the best and we should have gotten the ball inside more. But they played an extremely smart game and got what they wanted out of their offense.”
Young added 17 points, and the Wildcats actually got more than they expected offensively from Davor Duvancic, who hit four 3-pointers—three of them during Northwestern’s huge first-half surge. He’d made just 12 3-pointers all season entering the game.
In Northwestern’s last two practices, the 6-foot-8 Duvancic shot about 500 3-pointers. And Saturday his work was rewarded as he hit his first three.
“They hit some big 3s,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “That’s three points a possession and it’s hard to get it back. That’s how it got away from us.”
With Wisconsin ahead 11-9, Northwestern scored 15 straight points as the aggressive and collapsing zone frustrated the Badgers and caused turnovers from a team known for its solid ballhandling.
Duvancic hit a pair of 3-pointers and Young had a three-point play. Vukusic’s dunk and then two free throws by Evan Seacat after Ryan was called for a technical during a timeout put the Wildcats ahead 24-11.
“I have no idea,” Ryan said of the technical, adding that he was simply giving instructions to Harris to get in the huddle.
Young then drove and converted another three-point play, Seacat and Duvancic hit two more 3-pointers and Vukusic’s free throw put the Wildcats up 36-19 at the half.
Duvancic’s fourth 3-pointer gave the Wildcats a 20-point lead early in the second half.
Wisconsin finally gave a large red-clad following something to cheer about when Morley’s second 3-pointer of the second half capped a 16-6 run and got Wisconsin within 10 with 11:34 left.
But Mohammed Hachad’s 3-pointer, a layup by Young and Vukusic’s 3-pointer as the shot clock was running down helped the Wildcats regain control and expand the lead to 16 points.
Northwestern hit 12 straight free throws in the final two minutes—eight by T.J. Parker—to sew up the win.
The Badgers shot just 28.6 percent in the opening half (8-for-28) to 59 percent (13-for-22) for Northwestern. Northwestern finished at 51 percent and Wisconsin at 35.8 percent. The Wildcats were 8-for-17 from the 3-point line.
Wisconsin played its second straight game without suspended guard Maurice “Boo” Wade.