Men’s Basketball: Wildcats more competitive, still fall to Wolverines

Freshman center Alex Olah looks to score in the post. Olah led the Wildcats in scoring against Michigan.

Daily file photo by Melody Song

Freshman center Alex Olah looks to score in the post. Olah led the Wildcats in scoring against Michigan.

Josh Walfish, Reporter

Northwestern could not execute the basic stuff Wednesday night.

The Wildcats (12-10, 3-6 Big Ten) missed routine layups and short jumpers most of the night and the Wolverines (20-1, 7-1) made them pay for it. Michigan was in a lull at the beginning of the second half, but were able to persevere and defeat NU 68-46.

“The layups have to fall and the foul shots have to go in if you’re going to beat a No. 1 team,” coach Bill Carmody said, “especially if it’s on the road. You don’t have to play perfectly to beat that team, but you have to play well. You have to take care of all the things — make your layups and make your foul shots.”

NU was significantly more competitive Wednesday than it was when the two teams met on Jan. 3 in Evanston. Despite the fact Michigan hit 10 of its first 11 shots, NU was only down by 10 points with just over 10 minutes left in the half.

The start was a big point of emphasis for the Cats prior to the game, and NU delivered, holding a slim lead three and a half minutes into the action and staying within single digits for most of the game’s first eight minutes.

Even though the Cats were better, they struggled to slow down the Wolverines offense. Michigan shot 61 percent from the field in the first half and led NU by 15 at the halftime break. The defensive letdown overshadowed the fact NU shot 41 percent and outrebounded Michigan 12-10 in the first 20 minutes. Carmody said he thought his team played good defense in the first half, but it was tough for them to stop Michigan guard Trey Burke, who ended the game with 18 points.

“We’d stop them for 25 seconds and then they’d give it to Burke and he’s just really hard to contain,” Carmody said. “They had a couple of clearouts and he just pulled up from three and banged them.”

Burke was a major factor for the Wolverines in the first half, either scoring or assisting on 25 of Michigan’s 36 first-half points. Sophomore guard Dave Sobolewski said it was a little frustrating having Burke hit his jumpers after he missed them on film, but said that’s the type of challenge you sign up for when you play in the Big Ten. Even without having to guard him, Alex Olah said he could tell how good of a player Burke is.

“He’s a really good player obviously,” Olah said. “He’s one of the best players in the nation and you can see that on the court. He’s really fast, he can knock down shots and play one-on-one (defense).”

If the Cats had a chance to get back into the game, it was within the first four minutes of the second half.

NU started the stanza on a 10-4 run to cut the deficit to nine points and Sobolewski stepped to the free throw line for three foul shots. The sophomore point guard missed all three freebies, and Michigan responded by retaking control of the game and outscored NU 25-11 after the misses. The free throws proved to be a crucial turning point, as NU did not get within single digits again after Michigan hit a free throw on the other end with 15 minutes and 20 seconds left.

NU’s offensive struggles continued in Ann Arbor, Mich. Olah led the Cats with 10 points and was the only NU player in double figures. Only three other players scored more than five points and the Cats shot 37 percent from the field. It was a far cry from the first game when NU had four players in double figures despite the loss.

Sobolewski said although the two games against Michigan may not be a good benchmark, he’s seen NU improve over the past month.

“We’ve definitely gotten better since Jan. 3,” Sobolewski said. “We need to start scoring the ball. Our defense has been good. We’re pretty happy with our defense and where we are with that, but we need to make improvements on the offensive end.”