The Northwestern Wildcats welcomed in the Wisconsin Badgers to Welsh-Ryan Arena on Tuesday night for the first time in 15 years without being led by head coach Bo Ryan. Ryan retired midseason after his team was runner up in the NCAA tournament last year. In his 15 seasons as the Badgers head coach, Wisconsin made the NCAA tournament every year and never finished lower then 4th in Big Ten Conference regular season standings.
Ryan left his team in the hands of his longtime assistant Greg Gard, who inherited a young team that is in transition from being one of the best teams in the country to a below average Big Ten team. The Badgers came into the game at 9 – 8 overall and 1 – 3 in conference action.
The Wildcats jumped out an early 14 – 5 lead on the Badgers, thanks to some nice shooting by sophomore sensation Bryan McIntosh and some aggressive team defense. The Badgers were able to climb their way back into the game as they were only down 26 – 28 at halftime.
From start to finish this was McIntosh’s game, as his was dazzling on the offensive end of the floor. Every time down the court it was a “what is he going to do next,” type of feeling. McIntosh was hitting 3’s over centers and beating his man off the dribble at will leaving Coach Gard searching for answers. McIntosh finished with a game high 28 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds.
The over laying theme of this year for the Wildcats is whether or not they make the NCAA tournament but a close second is the maturation of McIntosh. The NU point guard is leading the team in points and assist while running Coach Collins offense and becoming the leader of this team.
The Wildcats have had to change their identity the past 4 games due to a foot injury to senior center Alex Olah. The lack of a low post presence has made the Wildcats play outside-in, compared to feeding Olah when healthy to open up the outside shooters. The Badgers ran the Wildcats off the 3-point line all night and contested every long distance shot causing Northwestern to shoot 4 – 12 (.3333) from beyond the arc.
The Badgers Nigel Hayes did his best to keep his team in the game by scoring 17 points but it was not enough to beat the Wildcats. Hayes came in the game as 1 of 2 players in the Big Ten averaging over 15 ppg, 6 rpg and 3.5 apg. The junior showed his aggressiveness by getting to the line 7 times, an area he is familiar to as he leads the Big Ten in FT and FTA.
Even without Alex Olah, the Wildcats were able to break Wisconsin’s 5 game winning streak in Evanston and move to 3 – 2 in the Big Ten. Northwestern will look to extend their winning streak to 3, when they host Penn State this Saturday night at 7:30 pm.