by: John Chase
This was the type of game we have been looking for from the Huskies all season. Our scorers got hot, our defense played tough, and our team showed how 40 minutes of solid basketball leads to a solid, decisive victory over an inferior opponent.
Sure, John Shurna racked up 24 points (by the way, he has the ugliest shooting form I have ever seen. I have no clue how he scores), but our defense contested nearly every shot he took. Shurna is simply a great scorer and guys like that will make shots with a hand in the face or not. Look at Terrence Ross for proof of that.
The Dawgs dominated just about every category you can think of. The only disappointing stat was the turnover category. After holding an 11 to 4 advantage in forced turnovers in the first half, the Dawgs finished with 17 turnovers, while forcing Northwestern in only 15 total. Whether the Dawgs got sloppy or Northwestern adjusted properly is somewhat up for debate. In my opinion, the fact that the Dawgs scored only 2 less points in the second half compared to the first indicates that Northwestern didn’t really adjust well, the Huskies simply tried to showboat too often leading to silly turnovers.
The Huskies rebounded in force tonight, holding a 42 to 26 advantage at games end. The Huskies pulled in 20 offensive boards and 3 players, Aziz N’Diaye, Terrence Ross, and Tony Wroten, pulled in 7 or 8 rebounds a piece using their superior size and athleticism to extend above the opposition to pull in the board. After the poor rebounding performance against UT-A it was quite refreshing to see our rebounding prowess return.
The 3-point shooting by the Dawgs was a tale of 2 halves. The Huskies started a very poor 5 of 21 outside the arc, but C.J. Wilcox and Terrence Ross turned it on in the second half to light up the court. The Huskies were a much better 6 of 11 in the second half as Ross and Wilcox found open looks and took advantage of it. Wilcox was 1 of 6 in the first half, while Ross was 1 of 7 (I believe, not 100%). Wilcox finished 4 of 9 and Ross went 6 of 14 on his way to a career high 32 points.
Here is a stat I thought I would never seen this season, 8-8. That was the Huskies stat for free throw shooting in the first half. No big surprise, the guys shooting those free throws were the ones who have shied away from the line all year: Wilcox and Ross. The Dawgs finished the night 11 of 14 from the line. Abdul Gaddy and Tony Wroten each missed their lone opportunity at the stripe and N’Diaye split a pair. Outside of those players, the Dawgs were perfect. Man, it was nice to see that.
My favorite stat of the night? 18 assists. That has been the missing ingredient all season long. Both Gaddy and Wroten racked up 7 assists as the Huskies moved the ball well around the court, battling and demolishing the ineffective Wildcat zone defense. Our point guards did exactly what we have needed them to do, distribute the ball. Our top two shooters took the majority of our shots and look how that turned out, amazing.
Aziz N’Diaye could have had a career night, but he struggled to finish at the rim at times. N’Diaye was only 5 of 11 on the night, a lower percentage than his usual. N’Diaye was surprisingly good at defending the small Northwestern guards and did not pick up a single foul. You read that right, not one single foul. Impressive. N’Diaye had 2 steals offsetting 1 turnover and was a solid force down in the block, preventing the dribble drive. N’Diaye played 30 minutes tonight, something that really surprised me as I thought Romar would put a 4-guard line-up on for most of the night with Darnell Gant providing mobile post support.
Tony Wroten and Abdul Gaddy did not have great shooting night, but they had great point guard nights. They moved the ball, the drove and dished, and generally did everything you could ask of a point guard. Both had 5 turnovers, which marred otherwise great nights, but that happens when you try to be too fancy with the ball. Our guards realized our shooters were hot and got them the ball.
Desmond Simmons was quietly effective after getting pulled early in the first half following poor defensive rotations. He finished with 4 points and 2 boards. Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Shawn Kemp, and Hikeem Stewart provided great relief efforts for the Dawgs with Stewart picking up a high of 5 minutes. Martin Breunig came in and flushed a monster dunk in the lane over a Wildcat defender.
C.J. Wilcox had a stellar performance and finished with 20 points and 6 rebounds. He also had 1 assists to offset his lone turnover. Alongside Ross, Wilcox helped stretch the Wildcat defense thin leading to wide open shots. In the first half, our shooters struggled to finish these open opportunities, but capitalized in the second. Wilcox found his shot and drilled home several great deep balls, while also finding success inside the lane with some nice pull-up jumpers. Loved his play tonight and his continuing improvement as his health improved. Wilcox should be a very dangerous player again next season with his body healed up.
Terrence Ross exploded last night. He found his stroke and kept backing up further and further until the Wildcat defenders were guarding him at half-court at which point Ross would dribble past his man, finishing in the paint. Ross was 10 for 21 from the field and a perfect 6 of 6 from the free throw line. His 8 rebounds were excellent and Ross finished stuffing the stat sheet with an assist, 2 steals, a block, and just 1 turnover. It was a career performance, the type of which exemplifies why he is considered a potential lottery pick in the coming draft. This is how we expected Ross to play all season, but it has taken the last 2 or 3 weeks for Ross to have success in both halves of the game. Hopefully Ross can continue this trend of playing the full 40 through the NIT championship game and throughout next season. I love that Romar kept Ross in late in the game so he could break his career high of 30 points. As soon as Ross got to the line for the final time and sunk 2 free throws to give him a career best 32, Romar subbed Ross out to a standing ovation and chants of “One more year!”
What Needed Improvement:
- Turnovers – I thought the Dawgs were going to finish with under 10 turnovers on the night, but things out sloppy and out of hand at times in the second. A better team would have capitalized on our mistakes, but Northwestern was unable to do so, thankfully. 17 turnovers is way too high and needs to be minimized, especially with a potential quarterfinal match-up against Oregon on the horizon.
What was Good:
- Rebounding – As I talked about before, the Dawgs dominated a clearly inferior rebounding team. Three players racking up at least 7 rebounds a piece is a recipe for success. The guarded well on defense and snatched up their own missed shots to garner 16 second chance points. Great effort on the glass.
- Team Effort – Our point guards passed, our shooting guards shot, and our bigs kept Northwestern out of the paint. There was hustle and effort across the board. Even Romar got involved with a spontaneous post game speech to the crowd, thanking everyone for coming out and supporting them despite the “inconsistent” efforts they displayed this season. It was an emotional game followed with an emotional speech. While it is a little late, this emotion is refreshing to see and hopefully the Huskies can continue to dominate their opposition to send a message to the NCAA that they should have been one of the 68 teams sent to the big dance.
- Ross and Wilcox – The duo combined for 52 of the Huskies 76 points. Damn. That is huge.
The Dawgs will likely face Oregon on Tuesday for the final home game of the season. There is a small chance of an upset, but count on Oregon coming to Hec-Ed one more time. The Dawgs owe Oregon an embarrassment following the dismantling they faced earlier this season in Eugene. The Dawgs can turn a “snub” into at least something by taking home the NIT title, but there are still 3 games left and they cannot ease up on the gas. Hopefully this team saw how well things go when they apply themselves hard on both ends of the court and continue to do so.