Wildcats drop two to tough competition in Las Vegas

Alex Putterman, Assistant Sports Editor

The Wildcats weren’t expected to win either of their games in Las Vegas this week. And they didn’t.

But Northwestern (4-4) showed some moxie — and offensive ability — in a 78-67 loss to Missouri on Thursday and a 95-79 defeat against No. 19 UCLA on Friday. The matchups were part of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational.

The Cats hung with their more highly touted opponents both nights but lost both games by substantial margins.

First came the Tigers on Thursday.

After junior guard JerShon Cobb’s 16 points led NU to a 39-34 halftime lead, Missouri dominated the second half.

The Tigers burst from the break with 14 straight points and never again let the Cats get close. Behind 21 points in the game from guard Jordan Clarkson — one of four teammates to score at least 14 — Missouri cruised to an 11-point victory.

For NU, Cobb finished with 22 points, and freshman forward Nate Taphorn added a career-high 11 on 4-6 shooting in the loss.

Cats forward Drew Crawford, the team’s leading scorer on the year, suffered back spasms in the first half and did not return. The fifth-year senior missed most of the 2012-13 season with an injury to his right shoulder.

Friday, with Crawford still sidelined, NU fell behind UCLA 14-1 at the start of the game. Though the Cats hung around for much of the first half, the Bruins put them away with a remarkable offensive explosion.

“You’ve just got to come out with energy,” Taphorn said. “We did somewhat but we didn’t come out with what we needed to.”

UCLA shot 76 percent from the field in the first half before finishing at 63.3 percent and made 13 of its 17 3-pointers on the night. Guards Bryce Alford, Zach LaVine and Jordan Adams netted 18 points each for the Bruins, and guard Kyle Anderson amassed 16 points, nine assists, nine rebounds and four steals.

“It’s tough when we contested a lot of those, and they made them,” Cobb said of UCLA’s shooting. “It’s tough when you think you played good ‘D’ and they still made the shot anyway.”

NU avoided a worse blowout thanks to Cobb’s 22 points and big contributions from a pair of sophomores. Forward Kale Abrahamson notched a career-high 19 points on 7-12 shooting, and center Alex Olah scored 11, along with seven rebounds and four assists.

After UCLA continued to play aggressively late in the win, NU coach Chris Collins appeared to yell at Bruins coach Steve Alford during their postgame handshake. Collins stopped in front of Alford and enthusiastically spoke in his face for several seconds as Alford attempted to push past.

Despite that tension and the losses, NU’s weekend wasn’t all bad.

The Cats had spurts of impressive play in both games. The first half against Missouri demonstrated the Cats’ potential, and the offense’s success the following night — even without Crawford — was encouraging as well.

NU next plays Wednesday against North Carolina State in Raleigh, N.C. and hopes to build off its Las Vegas performance.

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