This is when a losing streak becomes a losing season.
Northwestern (12-16, 3-14 B1G), who came into their matchup against Minnesota (18-11, 8-10 B1G) as slight favorites, wasted what could've been their best chance at snapping their terrible nine-game skid this season. The Wildcats fell to the Gophers 62-50 in a game that was difficult to stomach. Their two best players, Vic Law (13 pts, 7 ast) and Dererk Pardon (16 pts, 13 reb) couldn’t find a sustained rhythm to keep the team competitive. The Gophers took the lead early and never looked back, thanks in large part to the brilliance of Amir Coffey (32 pts, 12 reb) and his 40-minute night.
Northwestern looked like a mess in the first half. Early on, the Wildcats were committing several turnovers and fouls while Minnesota relied on their two centerpieces, Coffey and Jordan Murphy (6 pts, 7 reb), to handle the ball and look for points. Eric Curry (6 pts, 2 blk) was perfect from the line twice to chase an early six points, and after the first ten minutes the ’Cats were trailing 16-6. A team that has struggled to score during Big Ten play was looking particularly vulnerable.
Though it appeared Northwestern had found some offensive juice soon after, spurred by a pair of Miller Kopp (9 pts) threes, Minnesota kept finding ways to respond on the other side of the court. Aided by more Wildcat turnovers and fouls, the Gophers maintained their lead and closed out the first half up 32-20. The Wildcats shot 3-for-13 from the arc heading into halftime, indicative of the trouble they’ve had this season in getting jump shots inside the arc.
The next twenty minutes weren’t much kinder for the ’Cats. Though the half started out promising as a Pardon layup was followed by an electric Law dunk, hopes were dashed as the team reverted back to their inept ways. The Gophers, led by Coffey’s hot hand, extended the lead to 20 with just under nine minutes to play.
“Our inability to score has just been our kryptonite much of the year,” coach Chris Collins said. “Every time we try to get some momentum, every [time] we try to get some things together, we just can’t string together 2, 3, 4 buckets in a row.”
In addition to the team’s poor shooting, not enough players even contributed: just four Wildcats had points until there were less than five minutes left. Northwestern’s woes were aggravated by the fact that the team barely had any offensive rebounds. It was no surprise that more than a few purple-clad fans threw in the towel and headed out well before the game was over.
The ’Cats were able to add some garbage-time points toward the end, but it didn’t matter. The result was another loss in a frustrating Northwestern season, and the achievement of an NCAA Tournament trip two years ago is becoming more and more of an outlier.
“We just gotta be able to play clean offense for the 40 minutes,” Pardon said. “Not 20 minutes, not 35 minutes – we have to make sure we’re doing it for all 40. So just when we do that, we’ll come out with a win.”
Northwestern is now in danger of finishing the year on a long losing streak for the second season in a row. Though Collins said the team has had some good performances during the tough stretch, he acknowledged the severity of the loss.
“Tonight we weren’t worthy of winning,” Collins said. “Minnesota outplayed us.”