Men’s Basketball: Seeking consistency, Northwestern and Wisconsin prepare for duel at Welsh-Ryan

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Zack Laurence/The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern celebrates after a timeout. The Wildcats will be looking to build their first conference winning streak of the season against a Wisconsin team dealing with the mid-season retirement of legendary coach Bo Ryan.

Garrett Jochnau, Reporter


Men’s Basketball


As Northwestern prepares to host Wisconsin on Tuesday, it can bask in the momentum collected from Saturday’s rout of Minnesota. But a few days prior, the atmosphere of Northwestern’s locker room had a much different feel.

After dropping two consecutive Big Ten games in disheartening fashion, the Wildcats (14-3, 2-2 Big Ten) appeared on the verge of an all-out collapse. Fearing a repeat of the 10-game losing streak that followed last year’s Big Ten opener, coach Chris Collins sat down with his players, hoping to inspire confidence on the eve of the contest with Minnesota.

“Sometimes, when it’s not going so well, you lose sight of what it was like when it was going well,” Collins said. “So we actually showed a bunch of clips of us playing well, and being the team that we’ve been.”

The move paid dividends. NU dominated en route to a 25-point win and appears to be on the verge of finding its identity in the Big Ten.

The same goes for Wisconsin (9-8, 1-3), a team currently dealing with the consequences of former coach Bo Ryan’s mid-season retirement. But the Cats’ search for consistency comes with different circumstances.

An injury to senior center Alex Olah and the subsequent two-game collapse brought the Cats back to Earth after a strong non-conference campaign. Olah is still at least a game away — Collins said the potential is there for a Saturday return, pending doctor evaluation — but the team is starting to learn how to play without him.

“I can’t wait for (Alex) to be back because he makes my life a lot easier,” sophomore point guard Bryant McIntosh said. “But we’ve gotten used to playing with the other guys.”

The “other guys” include freshman Dererk Pardon and graduate transfer Joey van Zegeren. Against Wisconsin’s talented frontcourt — led by forward Nigel Hayes and center Ethan Happ — NU’s improving makeshift center tandem will need to once again step up.

“(My role is) going to be big, but I feel like that’s one of the things I do, being a defensive presence, being a presence in the paint,” van Zegeren said. “We all know with Olah not here yet, I’ll have to do a better job with that.”

After getting back on track against Minnesota, the team is now left in search of a statement win. Collins hopes Tuesday’s game will provide the perfect opportunity for positives from their two conference wins to materialize.

NU remains imperfect, however, and last week’s losing stretch shouldn’t be discounted. But with the opportunity to make a statement, the Cats will look to solidify their identity with a win over Wisconsin.

“When you have a week where you suffer two straight losses, especially at home, you can lose a little bit of confidence,” Collins said. “So for us, it was very important to go to the game against Minnesota and find a way to win. I thought we showed a lot of positive things. And hopefully we can take it into tomorrow.”

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Twitter: @GarrettJochnau

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