The Northwestern Wildcats continue their dream season, putting together a professional and consistent performance to blow out Nebraska at home.
The crowd at Welsh-Ryan Arena was waiting for a reason to outpour some emotion.
Their Northwestern Wildcats had controlled almost the entire game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, but never could gain much distance. The lead hovered around six points for almost the entire game. And the Huskers have been known to make a big run or two. Nebraska has made a habit of big scoring runs and close games throughout the season.
Northwestern said no. Plain and simple.
Like a NCAA Tournament team might, the Wildcats put their foot down defensively. Their blowout victory was inevitable if they stuck to their gameplan and limited turnovers.
And with one emphatic dunk — an alley-oop lob from Bryant McIntosh to Victor Law, who soared over teammate Sanjay Lumpkin — Northwestern sent Welsh-Ryan Arena into euphoria. It was part of a 13-1 second-half run that iced the game away, giving Northwestern a 19-point lead.
Nebraska might not be the best the Big Ten has to offer — Sunday’s opponent in Indiana might or might not — but taking care of business is something every tournament team has to do. Especially at home.
The evidence continues to point to Northwestern being a tournament caliber team. And professional performances like this will do the job.
The Wildcats got only five points from Scottie Lindsey but picked up the slack from several other players. Dererk Pardon led the team with 19 points and 22 rebounds. Victor Law scored 20 points, making some nice pull-up jumpers and hitting his spot-up 3s well. Not to mention his athletic feats.
Northwestern got contributions everywhere to win this game.
But most importantly, their defense remained incredibly strong. The Wildcats locked down and stopped the Cornhuskers cold in their tracks. Nebraska shot just 36.5 percent for the game. Pardon ensured the Huskers got only one shot. And Northwestern ran selectively and scored efficiently, making 43.8 percent of its shots in the second half.
This was not a landmark win. The Wildcats still probably need another big win in conference to feel really good on the bubble. But this was the kind of win that often eludes bubble teams.
Things are getting serious for Northwestern.
Pardon is huge
Dererk Pardon has put up big games against Nebraska in the past. And it was clear very early on he was going to have a huge game against Nebraska.
Pardon had nine rebounds in the first half on his way to a conference-high 22 rebounds for the game.
He was a monster in the paint, changing shots, boxing out his man and limiting Nebraska to one shot more often than not.
Offensively, he was just as good. Pardon scored 19 points and did a good job cleaning up the offensive glass with six offensive boards. But he was more than just a scavenger. He rolled well on pick and rolls and stayed open on the weak side block for dump downs. He even hit a mid-range jumper.
Pardon has had some of his best games against Nebraska in his career. But the sophomore center did more than that. He has had a consistent run of play now that has him looking like a staple for Northwestern in the post for years to come.
Northwestern is never really known as a particularly deep team. The Wildcats have always had to rely heavily on their stars.
So it was encouraging to see Northwestern get a big win with Scottie Lindsey only scoring five points. And, maybe more importantly, Bryant McIntosh playing only 32 minutes (as he continued to struggle with his shot).
Isiah Brown, the freshman super-scorer from Seattle, is starting to find a bit more of a rhythm and produce in games.
Brown scored 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting. He drove aggressively to the basket and got out in transition. He still has a ways to go and looks like a freshman, but the cupboard is not bare for Northwestern.
Throughout the season, the Wildcats have gotten good contributions from throughout the bench. Gavin Skelly has provided good energy off the bench. Nathan Taphorn has proven to be good at spreading the floor when he steps in.
This Wildcats team is not top heavy at all. They have some nice role players who can give those stars a breather, support in the box score and space to attack.
Just keep shooting…
Northwestern is a good 3-point shooting team. that is a big part of the team’s attack. Dererk Pardon, after all, is not going to scare anyone with his post moves. His offensive game is limited.
That means much of Northwestern’s game is outside-in. The team runs a lot of motion sets around the perimeter trying to use quick passes and screens in tight spaces to create some driving lanes.
The threat of the 3-point shot is the way this works.
And Northwestern hit its share of 3-pointers Thursday. The Wildcats made 6 of 15 from beyond the arc, compared to the Cornhuskers’ 3 of 15.
Still Northwestern won a second game with poor shooting overall. The Wildcats will keep firing from beyond the arc and eventually the shots will go down. But the defense will remain key to helping the Wildcats make this big Tournament push.
Northwestern made only 41.3 percent of its shots. The team shot worse than 40 percent in the first half. Yet the Wildcats were in complete control of the game.
When the offensive avalanche came in the second half, it was enough to help them pull completely away.