Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Faulty NU ‘D’ goes on road

Vedran Vukusic summed it up perfectly after the Wildcats’ 78-66 loss to No. 1 Illinois on Saturday: The problem hasn’t been with Northwestern’s offense — the defense is letting the team down.

What used to be a strength for the Cats is now a liability.

NU ranks second to last in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot 43.8 percent from the field, and last in steals, grabbing only 5.3 per game.

The Illinois game was the Cats’ third consecutive loss and the third straight contest in which NU allowed the opposition to cross the 70-point barrier.

In their previous 13 games, the Cats (8-8, 1-3 Big Ten) allowed only one opponent — Arizona State — to score more than 66 points.

"Last year and this year every big game we won, we played really good defense," guard Mohamed Hachad said. "It’s also our style of play to keep the scores down."

In response to the team’s sloppy defense, NU coach Bill Carmody has made defense the emphasis in preparation for a road game against Penn State (6-11, 0-4) on Saturday at 3 p.m.

"We’re working on it all day (Tuesday)," Carmody said. "That’s it. Not all week because you still have to make shots, but we’re spending a lot of time on it."

During its three-game skid, NU has shot better than 50 percent from the field in each game. But because of turnovers and allowing easy buckets, the Cats have been beaten in shootouts.

But this style of play doesn’t suit Carmody’s Princeton offense, which typically favors a low-scoring, methodical game.

"I think it’s just guards driving middle, either from the top of the key or the wing," Vukusic said. "That’s killing us, because when somebody drives middle somebody else has to help and that leaves another guy open for an open shot or a dunk under the basket."

Carmody has taken some of the blame for the team’s lackluster defense. He said his strategy against Indiana on Jan. 5 — to shut down guard Bracey Wright on the wing — has had a lingering effect on the rest of the team’s games.

The result has been that the Cats are limiting one player from every team while allowing everyone else to beat them.

"I don’t know why it didn’t just click in my mind that now we’re getting all these drives in (the interior)," Carmody said. "It’s not an all-out excuse for our guys, but I think there are some things that we can do to help."

Because Carmody usually plays a seven-man rotation, fatigue could be wearing NU down at the end of games.

Illinois, Michigan and Michigan State each used at least an eight-man rotation in their games against NU. With their added energy, these teams also used late second-half runs to put the Cats away.

"I think that’s probably true," Carmody said. "Good teams weigh you down because they’re good."

The Cats had a similar start to conference play last season with the defense lacking, but a recommitment to protecting the basket spring boarded the rest of their season, when the Cats went 7-5 in their final 12 games.

"We can’t dwell on these three losses that long," Vukusic said. "We have to look forward to the rest of the season because it’s not over yet.

"We have a pretty good chance of making the postseason still."

Reach Zach Silka at [email protected].

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Faulty NU ‘D’ goes on road