Men’s Basketball: Badgers whip Wildcats in Chris Collins’ conference opener

Northwestern coach Chris Collins watches a game earlier this season. Wisconsin blew out the Wildcats on Thursday in Collins first Big Ten game.

Daily file photo by Tyler Pager

Northwestern coach Chris Collins watches a game earlier this season. Wisconsin blew out the Wildcats on Thursday in Collins’ first Big Ten game.

Alex Putterman, Assistant Sports Editor

Welcome to the Big Ten, Chris Collins.

Northwestern (7-7, 0-1 Big Ten) was routed in its rookie coach’s first conference game, falling 76-49 to No. 4 Wisconsin (14-0, 1-0) at home Thursday.

Although the Badgers are one of the best teams the Wildcats will face this season, the resounding blowout was an inauspicious beginning to conference play.

NU attempted to slow the pace to stay close, often running the shot clock to single digits with perimeter passing. But Wisconsin’s ruthless offensive efficiency quashed any hope of a competitive game.

After the Cats took a 5-4 lead five minutes into the game, the Badgers ran away, outrebounding NU, avoiding turnovers, creating good shots and preventing the Cats from producing any offense.

The Badgers shot 59.3 percent in the first half — to the Cats’ 26.1 percent — and led 40-14 at the break.

“Our inability to score the basketball affected our defense,” Collins said on WGN Radio after the game. “There’s not a whole lot of margin for error when you’re playing these guys. When you do have opportunities you have to finish and you have to make open shots.”

With the outcome essentially determined, NU held its own in the second half and was outscored by only 1 point in the period.

Center Alex Olah’s offense was a silver lining for NU. The sophomore dominated inside, catching tough passes and finishing as well as he ever has. Olah bullied Wisconsin big men in the post for 23 points on 10-14 shooting.

That career-high productivity came one game after a scoreless outing against DePaul and Collins was thankful for the sudden interior presence.

“I was proud of Alex,” Collins said on WGN. “We challenged him to be better. He played with great emotion. He really demanded the ball, and obviously with 23 points offensively he was tremendous.”

But Olah, like much the NU squad, struggled defensively, allowing many of Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes’ career-high 19 points.

Hayes was one of four Badgers players in double-digits, along with Ben Brust, Traevon Jackson and Sam Dekker. Dekker added eight rebounds to go with his 15 points.

NU’s offensive failures were partly attributable to the poor play of the team’s usual leading scorers. Senior forward Drew Crawford and junior guard JerShon Cobb totaled only 17 points on a miserable 6-23 shooting.

Moreover the Cats made only three of their 16 attempts from long range, continuing their pattern of taking and missing a high volume of three-pointers. The team has now hit only 32 percent of its shots from behind the arc this season.

NU next plays Sunday, when Collins and company take on Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. As with most conference games this season, the Cats will be heavy underdogs.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Collins said. “In this league you can’t sit back and be sad about what just happened.”

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